Browse common terms and their definitions

1799 Hold

An emergency 24-hour psychiatric hold that can be placed by physicians and other licensed staff in emergency settings when a patient cannot be safely released from the hospital because, in the treating clinician’s opinion, the patient, due to mental illness, poses a danger to self, danger to others, or is gravely disabled (i.e., unable to care for their own basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter). The number 1799 comes from the section of California’s Health and Safety Code in which this policy is found.

5150 Hold

An emergency 72-hour psychiatric hold that can be placed by a qualified law enforcement officer or clinician when someone, due to mental illness, poses a danger to themselves or others or is gravely disabled (i.e., unable to care for their own basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter). The number 5150 comes from the section of California’s Welfare and Institutions Code in which this policy is found.

AB 521

The California Legislature’s Assembly Bill 521 (AB 521), signed in October 2019, that allocated state funds for BulletPoints, a project to develop clinical tools for firearm injury prevention. BulletPoints is a project of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center (UCFC).

Background checks

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs) to conduct background checks on those seeking to purchase a firearm. To conduct a background check in California, an FFL contacts the California Department of Justice, which queries an array of state and federal databases, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). If the prospective buyer of the firearm is found to be a prohibited person, the sale or transfer cannot be completed.

In California, most direct transfers of firearms between private parties (i.e., not involving firearm retailers) must go through an FFL and the background check process.


The impact of a health problem on a given population, most often measured by the number or count of persons affected by that health condition. Burden differs from rate because it represents the absolute number of cases, whereas rate is the proportion of cases per population unit (usually 100,000 people). For example, California has the second highest burden of firearm deaths due to its large population but one of the lowest firearm death rates (7th lowest) compared with other states.

Case-fatality rate

The proportion of persons with the disease or health condition who die from it.


An individual who has died, for example “a suicide decedent.”

Domestic violence restraining order (DVRO)

A type of civil protective order that helps protect people from abuse or threats of abuse from someone they have a close relationship with. DVROs prohibit the person subject to them (the “respondent”) from owning or purchasing firearms and ammunition while they are in effect. In other states, DVROs may be called domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs).


The study of the distribution (frequency, pattern) and determinants (causes, risk factors) of health conditions in specified populations, and the application of this study to the control of health problems. Epidemiology is a cornerstone of public health that informs evidence-based practice and policy decisions.

Federal firearms licensee (FFL)

An individual or organization who is licensed to engage in the business of manufacturing, importing and/or dealing in firearms, including gun shop owners, pawn shop dealers, and retailers. Federal law requires firearms dealers to obtain a Federal Firearms License (also referred to as an FFL) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). In California, people who regularly sell, transfer, or loan firearms must also generally be licensed by the state Department of Justice (DOJ).

Firearm prohibitions

State and federal laws that forbid people who meet certain criteria, such as being convicted of certain crimes or subject to civil protective orders, from acquiring and possessing firearms. In California, prohibitions apply to both firearms and ammunition. A person subject to a firearm prohibition is sometimes called a prohibited person.

Firearm safety

A wide range of safe firearm handling and storage practices, including wearing eye and ear protection when shooting, storing guns unloaded and separate from ammunition when not in use, and always keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction.

Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC)

A certificate earned by taking and passing a written test on firearm safety and laws, generally at participating firearms dealerships and private firearms training facilities. Effective January 1, 2015, California state law requires all persons purchasing or acquiring a firearm (unless exempted) to obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) and present the FSC to a licensed firearms dealer prior to purchasing or receiving the firearm. An FSC is valid for five years from the date of issuance.

Gun safe

A container with electrical or mechanical locking mechanism components for safely and securely storing firearms. To prevent unauthorized use of the firearm, gun safes can be locked with a combination, digital keypad, biometric keypad, or other locking mechanism. Gun safes can often accommodate multiple firearms and firearms of different types (e.g., handguns and long guns) at once. Safes are often the most expensive safe storage device.

Gun violence restraining order (GVRO)

A type of civil protective order that temporarily prevents a person from accessing firearms and ammunition when they pose a threat to themselves or others. Other states have similar laws, sometimes called extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) or, more colloquially, “red flag” laws.

Health inequity

Unjust and avoidable systematic differences in the health status or in the distribution of resources between different population groups arising from unjust policies, poor governance, or discriminatory practices. Learn more about health inequities and social determinants of health here.


The occurrence of new cases of a health condition (e.g., disease, injury) in a population over a specified period of time. Incidence proportion, also called risk, is the proportion of an initially disease-free population that develops disease, becomes injured, or dies during a period of time. Incidence is limited to new cases only, whereas prevalence includes both new and pre-existing cases.

Intimate partner violence (IPV)

Violence by a current or former intimate partner (i.e., spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, dating partner, or ongoing sexual partner), including physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (including coercive tactics). It is sometimes called domestic violence (DV).

Laura’s law

California’s court-ordered involuntary, assisted outpatient treatment for those with serious mental illness who have been nonadherent with treatment and need it to prevent relapse or deterioration as a condition of staying in the community.

Lethal means counseling

A clinical practice that involves determining if someone at risk of self-harm has access to lethal means, such as firearms or medications, and collaborating with the person at risk and their loved ones to reduce access to lethal means for the duration of the heightened-risk period. Clinicians should be prepared to discuss reducing access to lethal means when clinically indicated.

Lifetime risk

The probability that a person will develop or die from a health condition over the course of their lifetime. An individual’s lifetime risk may be higher or lower depending on their unique risk and protective factors.

Lock box

A safe firearm storage device with an electrical or mechanical locking mechanism, such as a key, combination, push-button, digital keypad, or biometric keypad. Some types of lock boxes allow quick access to firearms, which can make them a preferred safe storage method for those who own guns for protection and want to store them safely while keeping them quickly accessible.

Mass shooting

A term with various definitions, ranging from more inclusive (e.g., incidents in which four or more people are shot or killed, regardless of the location and circumstances of the crime) to less inclusive (e.g., public shootings in which three or more are killed, excluding crimes related armed robbery or gang activity).

Mental health conservatorship

A mental health (LPS) conservatorship makes one adult (the conservator) responsible for another adult suffering from mental illness (the conservatee) who is gravely disabled and thus cannot provide for their own food, clothing, or shelter.

National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

A national namecheck system operated by the FBI and used by federal firearm licensees (FFLs) to verify that a prospective firearm purchaser doesn’t have a prohibiting criminal record and isn’t otherwise ineligible to purchase or possess a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state as well as federal records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal NICS database. In California, the Department of Justice (DOJ) serves as the point of contact for background checks on individuals purchasing, or being loaned or transferred, a firearm, including handguns and long guns.

Permit to purchase

A type of state licensing law that requires those who want to purchase a firearm to obtain a permit or license in advance. Usually, a prospective purchaser can seek such a permit by submitting an application to local or state law enforcement.


The person who requests a civil protective order, such as a GVRO or DVRO.


The proportion of the population that has a health condition at a point in time or over a specified period of time. Prevalence includes all cases, both new and pre-existing, in the population at the specified time. Prevalence differs from incidence because incidence is limited to new cases only.


A term widely used to refer to the proportion of a health condition per population unit (usually 100,000 people); though technically, a rate describes how quickly a disease or health condition occurs in a population (expressed per unit of time). Rate differs from burden, which is the absolute number of cases of a health condition, not a proportion.


The person subject to a civil protective order, such as a GVRO or DVRO.

Risk-based counseling

The clinical practice of counseling patients who present with risk factors, as opposed to universal counseling (i.e., counseling all patients). For firearm injury prevention, experts recommend risk-based counseling instead of a universal approach. In some patient populations, however, all members are at risk. For example, children are universally at risk of unintentional injury when there’s a firearm in the home so universal counseling is recommended in pediatric settings.

Safe storage

Safe storage is the practice of storing firearms safely and securely to prevent accessibility by unauthorized users such as minors, and others at risk. These practices include the use of firearm safety devices such as cable locks and trigger locks designed to keep the firearm from being loaded or fired in addition to securing firearms out of sight in a locking storage container such as lock boxes and gun safes. The most secure way to store firearms is to store them unloaded, locked up using a firearm safety device, separate from ammunition, and with the keys and combinations to firearm locking devices inaccessible to unauthorized users.

Serious mental illness

Serious mental illness (SMI) is a category of mental illness (excluding developmental and substance use disorders) that results in serious functional impairment and substantially interferes with one or more major life activities. Examples of serious mental illness include major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Sexual and gender minority (SGM)

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations include, but are not limited to, individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, queer, and/or intersex. Individuals with same-sex or same-gender attractions or behaviors, those with a difference in sex development, and those who do not self-identify with one of these terms but whose sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or reproductive development is characterized by non-binary constructs are also included.

Social determinants of health

Social determinants of health (SDOH) refer to conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play. These conditions may be social, economic, policy, and environmental and affect health both by influencing health behaviors and through other mechanisms, such as access to resources and neighborhood conditions. Learn more about social determinants of health and their effect on firearm violence risk here.

Temporary transfer

Voluntarily, temporary removal of firearms from the home for the duration of a crisis. When someone at risk of suicide has access to a firearm, reducing access to firearms can be lifesaving. Options for temporary transfer vary by state but legal options may include temporarily transferring firearms to a trusted friend or family member living outside the at-risk person’s household, or bringing the firearm(s) to a licensed retailer or local law enforcement agency for safekeeping.

In California, shooting ranges, retailers, and law enforcement agencies are permitted but not required to temporarily store firearms. California law allows persons over the age of 18 to receive and hold firearms without a background check or a safety certification, for as long as reasonably necessary, if for the express purpose of preventing self-harm as long as the recipient of the firearms is not a prohibited person, stores the firearms safely in their own home, and doesn’t use the firearm while he or she is storing it.

Some states, including Colorado, Washington, and Maryland have Gun Storage Maps that can help patients, clinicians, and family and friends find options for temporary transfer of firearms when someone is in crisis.

Trigger lock

A safe storage device that prevents pulling the trigger of the firearm. Trigger locks cover the trigger mechanism on either side of the firearm with two steel or plastic blocks that rest on the trigger guard and lock together using a key or combination lock. Firearms should always be unloaded before being locked up with a trigger lock. Locking a firearm with a trigger lock when the gun is loaded may cause the gun to be accidentally fired.

Waiting period

A certain number of days that must elapse between a firearm purchase and when the purchaser can actually take possession of the firearm. California has a mandatory 10-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, during which time a background check is conducted to ensure the purchaser is not prohibited from lawfully possessing firearms. If the purchaser passes the background check (i.e., is not found to be a prohibited person), after the 10-day waiting period ends, they can take possession of their firearm from the retailer.

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