At Goleta Valley Gun and Supply, the phone has been ringing constantly since early on May 24. Reporters from across the country, all fishing for a quote. The occasional anti-gun activist expressing disgust.
That was the Saturday morning the world woke up to learn that a mentally deranged gunman in Isla Vista had shot and killed three people, stabbed to death three others, and finally killed himself. Sheriff’s deputies found three semiautomatic handguns, nearly 40 magazines and 400 rounds of ammunition in the gunman’s black BMW.
And one of those guns, a long-slide, polymer-framed Glock 34 that was the gunman’s first firearm, came from Goleta Valley Gun and Supply. The shop’s employees say the gunman went through the same rigorous background check from the California Department of Justice as all prospective handgun buyers.
“The phone rings and we don’t know what will come from the other end,” said Bill, a part-time shop employee who asked that his last name not be used. “Everybody goes through the same thing.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s officials said the three guns recovered after the attack — the Glock 34 and two SIG Sauer P226s — were purchased at shops in Goleta, Oxnard and Burbank. The gunman, Elliot Rodger, bought them legally. They were registered in the name of the 22-year-old adult. Rodger passed the California background check, one of the strictest in the nation, flawlessly.
And yet Goleta Valley Gun and Supply and Shooter’s Paradise, an Oxnard indoor shooting range where Rodger wrote of handling a pistol for the first time, vaulted into the national spotlight because they were named in the gunman’s rambling manifesto. Both businesses have been operating for decades in their respective cities. They follow California’s gun laws to the letter. Shops that aren’t meticulous about paperwork go out of business.
“It’s very trying. You have to deal with the California Department of Justice. You have to deal with the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms]. You have to deal with the IRS,” said Kevin White, manager at Shooter’s Paradise, which has an associated firearms dealer, B&G Guns, next to the range. “All of these agencies are just looking for you to slip up.”
For years, Shooter’s Paradise was the only indoor range in West Ventura County and the nearest to Santa Barbara. White said the range draws shooters from every social strata, with doctors, attorneys and businessmen frequenting alongside blue-collar workers.
“We’ve got anybody from little old house ladies to veterans of wars and police. They’re just regular people you’d never think of who like to come in and shoot,” White said. “A lot of women like to learn to shoot.”
The gun shop owners also feel unfairly targeted for the criminal behavior of a mentally disturbed man who would have likely found a way to kill even if denied a gun. Rodger hit two bicyclists with his BMW coupe, they say, and police reportedly removed a hammer and machetes from the apartment where his first three victims were apparently stabbed to death. And yet no reporter is scrambling to track down the BMW dealer. There’s no talk of stricter carpenter’s licenses for hammers.
“They’re just picking on firearms, as always, because it’s easy,” said Bill, the Goleta gun store employee.
Both shops said they don’t believe there’s a need for stricter controls on guns.
Indeed, Rodger showed that someone who’s deranged but diligent can evade detection. Despite being treated for mental health issues, he was never involuntarily committed or detained in a way that would have shown up on a background check. During three run-ins with sheriff’s deputies, which happened after purchasing his firearms, officers never looked up Rodger’s gun registrations.
“Being a former Gaucho, I’m really upset,” said White, who attended UCSB. “On the other hand, I don’t think we need more gun control. Is more gun control going to stop someone from going through the hoops to get approved? This kid was squeaky clean.”
“They’ve all been these kind of introverted people with a history of mental problems,” Bill said of the shooters at Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. “California has the best background check of any state, and it didn’t stop him,” he said of Rodger.
One woman who was shopping at Goleta Valley Gun and Supply said she couldn’t understand why all the information collected by the California Department of Justice wasn’t put to use when sheriff’s deputies checked on Rodger’s welfare, at the request of his concerned parents, in April. “I’m mad because I have to jump through all these hoops to buy a gun, and where does all the information go?” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “Our sheriffs need that information accessible to them.”
White said there’s nothing that the shops where Rodger bought his guns could have done differently.
“We’re a legitimate business. We do everything within the parameters of the law,” White said. “Ninety-eight percent of the people who come through the door and buy things, they’re normal. There will be a few aberrations here or there, but the Department of Justice usually catches them. We just sell, and it’s up to the Department of Justice to weed people out.”