"Pro 2A" San Diego County candidate for Sheriff supports red flag laws!

(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

In 2014 California implemented their so-called red flag law. The law involves the ability for petitioners to have a gun violence restraining order (GVRO) executed against someone that’s deemed to be a threat to themselves or someone else. San Diego County, according to one report, “has been using the law in its full effect,” in comparison to other areas of the Golden State. The report notes that San Diego County has executed over 300 GVROs in just two years at the time of that reporting, which was more than any other county in the country. There’s gonna be a new Sheriff in town in San Diego, and one candidate who’s running  is John Hemmerling.

Hemmerling’s history includes time in the military and law enforcement. While serving in the San Diego PD he attended law school part time, and then joined the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. In his own words from our correspondence (which we’ll dive into more further down the line):

I am a former San Diego Police Officer, former head legal advisor to the San Diego Chief of Police, a retired US Marine Colonel, a combat veteran of the Gulf and Iraq Wars, and for the past five years the Chief Criminal Prosecutor in the City of San Diego. 

I am a Republican who supports the Second Amendment. I respect the entire Bill of Rights, and Constitution. I have raised my hand and sworn to uphold the Constitution in every position I’ve held. I take that oath very seriously.

I may be old fashioned, but I am running for Sheriff to protect the good people of San Diego County from the bad guys. And that includes reducing gun violence by taking firearms away from criminals and those with documented mental health issues who pose a credible threat to the safety of our community. I don’t think it would be presumptuous to say that is something every law enforcement officer would agree with.

In an October 2021 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, it noted that Hemmerling was a Republican until a few years prior, but then switched his registration to “no party preference”.

What brought this all to the forefront was a recent interview he took part in with Gun Owners Radio. The conversation got a bit heated surrounding the subject of GVROs. Show host Michael Schwartz got into asking Hemmerling some easy questions at first.

Schwartz: Okay, it is an election year and we have a pretty big election here in San Diego. The sheriff is not running so we’re gonna have a new sheriff no matter what, come November. And so we have a candidate here. Mr. John hemmerling. How’re you doing, John?

Hemmerling: I’m good. How you doing tonight?

Schwartz: Doing well. Okay, so you’re running for sheriff? What do you do currently?

Hemmerling: I’m currently the chief prosecutor in the city of San Diego and in our city attorney’s office there.

Schwartz: Okay. In your your..what was the catalyst? What made you run for sheriff?

Hemmerling: Well, let’s see why why I’m running? It’s, it’s a really good question. And first off, I want to thank you for allowing me to come on the show and speak tonight. You know, the sheriff’s race in 2022, you know, it’s about public safety. It’s ensuring that we’re electing the person who cares about the community we live in, cares about supporting victims, right? Instead of the criminals. Someone who will push back on with everything that I have against defunding the police. The sheriff is everywhere in our lives, you know, they…they run large…control and large portions of the county they run every jail. They’re in every courthouse, every court building they serve process a restraining order to do evictions.

Schwartz changed gears, bringing up the Second Amendment and asked Hemmerling about his stance on the right to keep and bear arms. Hemmerling claims he’s a “supporter of the Second Amendment”.

Hemmerling: Well, I think that’s another good question. You know, I’m, for one, you know, I’m very familiar with and comfortable [with] firearms. I spent my whole life around them. And it’s not only being a kid growing up in the Midwest around them. My father was a retired cop after 25 years in Kansas City. And I spent 30 years in the Marine Corps around…around this. So, you know, I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And…

Schwartz: In what way are you…are you a supporter of the Second Amendment? Like, what have you actually done to support the Second Amendment? Like, what does that mean, everybody? Hillary Clinton says she’s a supporter of the Second Amendment. Nathan Fletcher was a Marine, and he says he’s a supporter of the Second Amendment. What have you actually done? What can people sink their teeth into?

Hemmerling: Well, I like I said, I think it goes back to my my whole life history, things that I’ve done, you know, I’ve, I’ve, you know, your right Nathan Fletcher was a Marine, but he wasn’t, he wasn’t a retired Marine after 30 years. He didn’t work as a beat cop. You know, so I know the importance, you know, of having a strong Amendment, you know, the best way to protect the Second Amendment, you know, is to ensure that we can enforce the laws that are on the books instead of putting more more laws on the books.

A sidebar to Hermmerling’s comment about his 2A support and time in the service to act as prominence, the following was noted in his biographical data on the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association website where information about the candidates is available:

I served close to 30 years in the Marine Corps (7 active and 22+ reserve)

I only bring this up because fellow writer, co-host of the show, and colleague of mine, Joe Drammissi pointed out in a subsequent show (January 23, 2022) that Hemmerling’s comments about his service seemed misrepresented in the interview. Hemmerling neglected to mention that 22 years of his duty in the Marine Corps were as a reservist. There’s a big difference between 30 years of active duty and seven. I think this is worth mentioning on ways Hemmerling may represent or misrepresent himself.

Schwartz finally goes after what his research led him to, the subject of GVROs.

Schwartz: So I think that’s a good point, I want to, and I think that’s a strong point. And my understanding when I was doing my research, is that part of what you do in the city attorney’s office, the city attorney, who you work for, is extremely anti-Second Amendment. I don’t mean, kinda. Like she shows up at anti-gun rallies and is the key speaker, but that’s not you. You know, you don’t you know, you work for her. So I’m not going to put all of her faults at your feet. But one of the things that she’s done and is known for is the gun violence restraining orders, where do you stand on gun violence restraining orders?

Hemmerling: Well, I think that, you know, it’s a good question, you know, and I and I don’t know if…and because I don’t want to speak for her or some kind of strong anti, you know, Second Amendment feelings that she may or may not have, because I don’t know. I don’t know in her head but I think that you know, like, like it’s been said in a lot of places that there’s no unlimited right to the Second Amendment.

Schwartz: Here we go. Here we go. That didn’t take long. My specific question is what do you think about gun violence restraining orders? You personally.

Hemmerling: I think, I think gun violence restraining orders start to serve a good tool in the community.

Schwartz: Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard about you. Listen, man in no universe are you pro-Second Amendment. Not only do you support gun violence restraining orders, but you actually help implement them in other jurisdictions, right?

Hemmerling mentioned a grant from the state to support his office in educating other jurisdictions on the topic of executing GVROs. To do Hemmerling, Schwartz, and the process it’s full due respect, do listen to the interview in full HERE. It’s best to hear everything that Hemmerling had to say in the full interview.

After seeing there’s an opportunity where things might have been foggy, through some digging we can learn a few things about Hemmerling and his involvement in GVROs and education on them. From what we can glean from various articles, yes, Hemmerling does travel around and teach other police forces how to effectively use GVROs in their work.

In one report he said the following “There may not be a crime, but there are the red flags that someone needs a cooling off period,”. 

Another lists him as a keynote speaker at a “Saving Lives Through Gun Violence Restraining Orders” event. Who sponsored the event? “Co-sponsored by Brady Orange County, UCI Law, UCI Initiative to End Family Violence, and UCI Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy.” Seems like strange bedfellows for an alleged member of the GOP.

This San Diego Union-Tribune article describes his role and relationship with GVROs.

In the City Attorney’s Office, he said, he has taken a lead role in the use of gun violence restraining orders, which allow authorities take firearms from people found to pose a threat to themselves or others. In a statement, City Attorney Mara Elliott said Hemmerling was “instrumental in creating” the program and that he’s “known throughout the state as an expert in the field” who has led dozens of trainings across California.

Turning to his campaign page for Sheriff, some of what he has listed seems pragmatic, but isn’t really discussing his gigantic alleged support of the Second Amendment, on the “issues”. This is where he talks about guns and violence:

VIOLENT CRIMES AND CRIMES WITH VICTIMS

Rooting out violent crime throughout the community is a cornerstone of professional excellence in law enforcement. We will treat victims with utmost respect by professionally investigating crimes and keeping communication open and informative. Victims deserve respect and support and will not be left behind.

GUN VIOLENCE

I believe in a strong second amendment and the right for persons to bear arms, free of government overreach. However, gun violence is a community issue. We will expand the efforts to remove firearms from Armed Prohibited Persons, and ensure those who have a history of violence, suffer from mental illness, or serious substance abuse problems don’t victimize our community.

It’s not really fair to just completely judge someone off of a few soundbites, is it? However, there’s plenty of documentation and more quips and quotes of Hemmerling talking about these orders all over the place. I decided to turn to the source and reached out to Hemmerling for comment. Here’s a truncated transcript of my questions and his answers.

First set of questions to Hemmerling:

From the interview, you are quoted as saying the following:

“I think, I think gun violence restraining orders start to serve a good…good tool in the community.”

and

“Well, I think like I said, I think that, you know, there’s, I don’t think anybody can argue that it’s not it’s not proper. If you have someone who’s a criminal, they probably shouldn’t be having guns. I mean, there’s a whole statute on armbraces….”

If I’m reading this correctly, you’re equating allegations to someone [being] a criminal? Can you speak to your comments there? Because supporting gun violence restraining orders or extreme risk protective orders, whatever you want to call them, are a gross infringement on people’s rights. All the due process rights go right out the window. Not only are they an affront to the 2 Amendment, but also pretty much the 4th, 5th, and 6th as well.

Can you please clarify your stance?

Since you did not get to answer to being a supporter of concealed carry, as Sheriff, would you adopt a 100% SHALL ISSUE policy in your department?

Hemmerling’s first response:

I had hoped to address CCW’s during the radio interview but I was cut off before I got a chance.

You probably won’t be surprised, but that is the question I have received most often since I announced my candidacy for Sheriff.

I support Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) licenses without any reservations. I believe the CCW process is currently too onerous both in law and in the San Diego Sheriff’s Office’s policy. I am hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will either (1) eliminate or (2) at least clarify the “good cause” requirement. (See New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, tinyurl.com/v3h26e9a)

I’m going to make the CCW application process simple and clear for individuals. I will ensure there is a quick turnaround on the process by providing proper staffing and guidance on CCW’s when I’m Sheriff.

There is lots of misinformation about gun violence restraining orders. Police and Sheriff’s throughout the state, including in this county, use them regularly – and every Law Enforcement agency in the state is required by law to have detailed written procedures on the process (legislative overreach, as I tried to explain). However only a judge can grant them… similar to an arrest warrant and search warrant.

Second set of questions to Hemmerling:

Two more points of clarification would be appreciated. Well, two points, and one sub point.

1 – Yes or No – Your policy on CCWs will be a 100% SHALL issue policy[?] That is, if someone is not federally barred from owning a firearm and they apply to your office for a permit you WILL issue it[?]

The second point of clarification where I think maybe you can educate me on here is that you’re stating people don’t “understand” the red flag law in California. Maybe I’m mistaken on this. So when the judge renders an opinion or hears a petition for an extreme risk protective order, or red flag confiscation, it is or is not ex parte? The person having the order pushed against them, are they or are they not present?

2 – If they are not present and these hearings are ex parte, to your point about swearing an oath to the Constitution, is that or is that not a lack of due process? Is that or is that not a violation of several Amendments in the Bill of Rights? Does that or does that not allow the accused to face their accuser?

Hemmerling’s second response:

1. Yes. Once I put my CCW policy in place to implement the state statute, “shall issue” is presumed by the nature of equal protection under the Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment.

2. GVRO hearings in California are noticed hearings; personal service to the respondent is required and proof of service must be lodged with the court. The Respondent is present at the hearing, may be represented by counsel, and can present evidence including testimony and witnesses. Judges apply the same California Rules of Evidence they do in every court hearing.

There’s further clarification on what Hemmerling supports beyond his interview with Gun Owner’s Radio. That’s directly from him, you read his responses here today first.

If we’re not really fully acquainted with the intricate ins and outs of California’s law, let’s take a look at some of the provisions of the GVROs law. Below is some of the bill text for Assembly Bill No. 1014, approved by the Governor on September 30, 2014. I’m not going to personally dispute what Hemmerling said or make claim to what he’s for or against. You read what he said yourself and compare it to the statute:

  1. (a) (1) An immediate family member of a person or a law enforcement officer may file a petition requesting that the court issue an ex parte gun violence restraining order enjoining the subject of the petition from having in his or her custody or control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition.

[…]

(b) A court may issue an ex parte gun violence restraining order if the petition, supported by an affidavit made in writing and signed by the petitioner under oath, or an oral statement taken pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 18155, and any additional information provided to the court shows that there is a substantial likelihood that both of the following are true:

I’m not a legal scholar but that right there says California law does allow ex parte GVROs. As a matter of fact, the term “ex parte” is listed 24 times in the bill explanation and text of the law. Looking at “(b)”, it’s stated that an “affidavit” or “oral statement” is sufficient evidence to have a GVRO executed on someone with them having no due process. That means a verbal allegation is all it takes for another person’s Second Amendment right to be stripped from them. I don’t know if Hemmerling really answered my questions or not. I don’t really feel he spoke to every facet of them. Or, if he accurately expressed what’s in the statue, but that’s what I found. I’m not a lawyer, he’s a lawyer.

I didn’t think further communications with Hemmerling were needed. Actually, when digging around about what else I could learn about the candidate, I found there was some confusion over content a journalist came into possession of. Two tweets (one and two) with their associated images attached to them tell a compelling story. Take a look at them and read them yourself:

and

Who knows what that was all about, but Hemmerling’s boss had to retract his statement/recall the letter he sent where he threatened a criminal investigation against a journalist who was trying to do their job. Someone needs to watch the watchers. Should the citizens of San Diego be concerned that a government official might threaten a criminal investigation against a member of the press who’s trying to report on the happenings of said government?

I reached out to the San Diego County Republicans to get their input on policy. I asked specifically what the organization’s stance is on GVROs and CCWs. Neither Jordan Gascon (Executive Director) or William Hekman (Communications Director) responded to my correspondence.

I also contacted the San Diego County Gun Owners and asked them the same questions about their stance on candidates that support GVROs. What’s important about San Diego County Gun Owners is that they’re non-partisan and have/do endorse candidates regardless of party.

SDCGO is against any candidate that supports Gun Violence Restraining Orders.  Gun Violence Restraining Orders allow guns to be taken from people who have not been convicted of a crime and can be issued based on little more than an accusation from a disgruntled coworker or soon to be ex-spouse.  Gun Violence Restraining orders are exactly the type of gun-grabbing and political extremism we exist to stand against.  

No matter what, San Diego County is going to have a new Sheriff. It’s important that whoever takes over for the currently seated Sheriff is pro-Second Amendment. Whatever’s on the checklist of what an individual citizen of San Diego County wants in their candidate that claims Second Amendment support, there are a couple of things to consider. Is a candidate that supports the use of gun violence restraining orders a “show stopper” for you? If a candidate can’t tell you specifically what they’ve done to support the Second Amendment, is that going to be a problem for you? Does that equate to “support” or just lip service? San Diego has a choice to make. Hemmerling claims he supports this civil right, but that ”…there’s no unlimited right to the Second Amendment.”