The American flag in front of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Headquarters was flown at half-mast Monday in memory of the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

This weekend, one tragedy occurred and one was avoided. Is there a lesson to be learned? Always.

Last month I attended a continuing education seminar hosted by the Santa Monica Bar Association at Wokcano where Commissioner Matthew St. George presented on a new type of restraining order that is available in California. Over a lunch of broccoli beef and honey walnut shrimp, the commissioner explained to about 25 family law attorneys what can be done to prevent gun violence under California Penal Code § 18100.

The new law is designed to prevent mass shootings when either police or family members believe someone is a danger to themselves or others. It is specifically for situations like the Isla Vista killings when, in May 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six fellow students at UC Santa Barbara and injured 14 others before taking his own life. Rodger’s family had tried to have the police intervene and prevent the mass shooting. Legally there was nothing that could be done because even though he had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs and refused to take them, that did not prevent him from legally owning a gun.

As an example of what could be prevented, the Isla Vista case is often held up as a prime case of why we need this new restraining order, but that ignores certain realities, such as the fact that the first three killings that were committed were done by knife, not a gun, and this new violence prevention tool would not have been effective.

However, it may have helped prevent the shootings if Rodger’s parents had been able to go to court and get a restraining order that prevented their son from being in possession of a firearm. The Gun Violence Restraining Order is designed for family members, recent roommates and police officers to go in on an ex-parte basis and temporarily suspend the gun owner’s right to be in possession of a firearm, meaning they can act without giving notice to the gun owner. In general the courts don’t like to act without giving someone the opportunity to be heard — it’s that pesky due process thing — but if there is an immediate need or threat, the court can act, and then set a hearing date no more than 21 days in the future for a full hearing on the issue.

This type of proactive prevention is one more tool that we have to prevent violence. Will it stop all violence? No. Until we have a better mental health system that helps identify and aid those in need of services, we have to resort to these types of court orders.

Would this type of restraining order have helped prevent the tragedy in Orlando? Maybe. Had Omar Mateen’s ex-wife or father been able to seek the court’s assistance, maybe the local sheriff would have done a search of his home and taken possession of the weapons. But first Florida has to have the law, then the family has to know about it and be willing to use it. This is a new law in California, and most states have nothing like it for their citizens.

Awareness is what makes the difference. People speaking up makes the difference. This weekend a likely tragedy was averted because someone in Santa Monica spoke up, and that triggered an investigation that hopefully saved lives. James Howell is a man with a history of pointing guns at people, was reported to be in possession of three assault rifles with high capacity ammunition and was arrested after someone alerted Santa Monica police to a possible intruder based on Howell’s odd behavior.

What’s the lesson of Orlando? In the end, having more gun control is only one piece of a solution. Does a civilian need an assault rifle? Clearly, no. Do they lead to multiple deaths? Clearly, yes. But is banning them going to fix everything? No. Being more aware of unstable people, having the tools to stop them doing something harmful and being willing to step up are what make this world a safer place and help avert tragedies like Orlando.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in fathers’ and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at or 310-664-9969. Follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.