San Mateo County shows gun control can work

The federal government may be unable to pass gun control legislation, but that doesn’t mean the local level is as stymied.


In San Mateo County, California, a method of gun control has reduced firearm-related domestic violence to zero homicides over a three-year period.

An article in the New York Times on gun control issues profiled numerous states’ attempts to control guns in regards to restraining orders. Most have failed to adequately provide protection against violent gun acts for people who have been threatened by spouses.

How it Works?

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but for many years did not enforce laws on the books. Starting in 2006, a state pilot program was begun in San Mateo County with one major goal in mind: Anyone served with a temporary protective restraining order has 24 hours to turn over any weapons to local law enforcement or sell them to a licensed dealer.

Of 800 protective orders in the past year, 324 firearms from 81 people were collected.

According the Times article, the detective overseeing domestic violence investigations reviews protection orders each morning. Any that mention weapons are followed up on, including a call to the person who is being protected. Databases of handgun purchases are also consulted. Gleaning as much information as possible from all available sources is a typical starting point.

Two key elements take place soon thereafter:

  • An attempt to collect the firearms takes place very quickly, usually that day
  • If necessary, a search warrant is obtained in cases where those persons under a restraining order are not willing to comply with the law

Where Systems Fail

Many states, such as Washington, do not immediately require the forfeiture of guns when a restraining order is given. And, in the Times article, there are numerous cases that detail the effects of not pursuing the San Mateo method.

Typically, weapons are only sought if there is a history of gun offenses. But as the article recounts, most homicides following protective custody/restraining orders are the first violent gun acts for the murderer.