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Pismo Beach Police Department files first petition for a gun violence restraining order 

The Pismo Beach Police Department filed its first petition for a gun violence restraining order against a man who threatened to kill his neighbor.

According to court documents, on Sept. 14, Pismo Beach Police officers responded to a call in which Robert Ward was threatening to kill his neighbor. Ward was arrested for threatening to commit a crime that would have resulted in death or great bodily injury to another person, the documents stated.

The neighbor who he threatened, the documents state, feared for his life and believed Ward was able and willing to carry out the threat.

Prior to arresting Ward, police officers observed him in possession of a loaded firearm in public, the document claims. Officers obtained a search warrant for Ward's residence and located five firearms along with a large amount of ammunition and high-capacity magazines, which were all seized.

A week later, on Sept. 21, the document says that the neighbor called the police department to report that he had seen Ward returning to his residence carrying a plastic gun case.

Police then filed a piggyback search warrant—which allows law enforcement to search an individual's home or another location after finding evidence that a crime was committed elsewhere. With this second search of his home, officers said they found additional ammunition along with firearm parts, a bulletproof vest, a SWAT style belt, multiple knives, and several pellet handguns and rifles.

The document goes on to state that due to Ward's threats against his neighbors, possession of unregistered and un-serialized firearms, large amounts of ammunition and high-capacity magazines, possession of tactical equipment, previous statements made to neighbors about obtaining illegal firearms from other states, and possessing a loaded firearm in public, it was believed that, on account of public safety, Ward should be served with the gun violence restraining order petition.

On Sept. 30, Ward was served with an initial petition for the restraining order, but according to the document, the original petitioner didn't attend the scheduled court hearing and the original petition expired. Pismo Beach police detectives filed a follow-up request on Oct. 24.

Pismo Beach Police Sgt. Anthony Hernandez said gun violence restraining orders have been available to law enforcement since Assembly Bill 1014 went into effect in 2016. The process, Hernandez said, is similar to restraining orders that are granted in domestic violence cases.

AB 1014 allows immediate family members or law enforcement to petition a court to remove a person's right to own, possess, or buy a firearm for 21 days. If the court decides that the person in question poses an immediate threat or danger to themselves or others, the court could then issue a gun restraining order.

The bill was created as a response to the May 2014 Isla Vista mass shooting, when Elliot Rodger went on a violent rampage near the UC Santa Barbara campus, shooting and stabbing six people and injuring 14 others.

Weeks after the tragedy, former Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkely), and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson crafted the "red flag" law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Hernandez said the list of individuals who can to file for a gun restraining order against a potentially violent person will soon expand with state legislation that was passed this year.

On Oct. 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of 15 bills aimed at strengthening gun violence protections. The package includes bills that bolster the existing gun violence restraining order and others that regulate firearms sales. Among them was Assembly Bill 61, which enables an employer, co-worker, employee, or a teacher to file a petition requesting a gun violence restraining order. Assembly Bill 12, also signed into law, extends the duration of a gun violence restraining order to a maximum of five years.

Former Assemblyman Williams—currently Santa Barbara County's 1st District supervisor—told New Times he believes expanding the scope of the red flag law that he and Assemblywoman Skinner authored will reduce gun violence deaths.

Williams said that a recent LA Times article reported that the gun violence restraining order law is helping reduce the chance of mass shootings. The findings were part of a study released by the UC Davis School of Medicine.

The study was made up of 21 cases where an individual was barred from purchasing a firearm or had a firearm removed from them per court orders. It was found that none of these individuals were later involved in gun-related violence.

"Besides expanding the scope of the law, a higher degree of public knowledge is vital," Williams said. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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