Firearms and Mental Illness

California is not doing enough to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, according to a state audit released on October 24. The breakdown is a result of the state’s failure to report a person’s mental health status to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Why is this happening, especially in light of the ever-increasing acts of gun violence involving the mental ill, begs closer examination. The first step in looking at this issue more closely begins with the Superior courts around the state. When an individual is convicted of certain crimes, he or she loses the right to carry or possess or own a firearm. Crimes like domestic violence, restraining order violations and enumerated assault and gun possession and use offenses will cause revocation of the right.

Theoretically, the courts should automatically notify the state Department of Justice. But of the 34 courts surveyed, most weren’t even aware they had the reporting obligation, nor did they send notice of convictions to the Mental Health unit at the DOJ. Over a three-year period, 2,300 prohibited individuals did not get reported. Some courts did submit reports but they were incomplete in different ways.

The failures were not limited to the criminal courts. Mental health courts around the state fell down on this obligation, many not aware they had the obligation. Governor Jerry Brown has authorized $24 million to expedite the confiscation of weapons from people on the list.

The results of the audit have triggered additional training for court personnel and increased reporting requirements. While many individuals find their names on the list, quite a number were unaware of the ban, not having been notified at the time of their conviction of the loss of their rights.

If you have any questions regarding this information or feel as if your rights have been impaired, please contact Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg for a consultation.