Officials discuss gun laws proposed in wake of Isla Vista tragedy
In the wake of the May 23 mass murder in Isla Vista, a coalition of public officials has formed to support a set of state and federal gun-control proposals designed to fill “gaps” in the way firearms laws and the mental health system mesh.
At a Monday press conference in Isla Vista, Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, discussed legislation she has put forth that would let family members prevent a mentally unstable person from gaining access to firearms.
“There were clear red flags before the I.V. rampage, and yet this assailant fell through the cracks,” Capps told reporters today at Walter Capps Park in Isla Vista. “We need to make sure our families and law enforcement have the tools to intervene before a crisis starts, and to make sure that someone experiencing a crisis isn’t able to injure themselves or others.”
Capps said she believes laws that address gun ownership among the mentally ill could have prevented the May rampage, in which Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old with a history of mental health problems, killed six others and then himself. Rodger is believed to have stabbed four of the victims to death in his apartment before he embarked on a shooting rampage through Isla Vista, the densely populated student community next to the UC Santa Barbara campus.
Capps’ bill, called the Pause for Safety Act, addresses what she and other public officials call “gaps” in how gun laws and the mental health system operate with each another.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office conducted a so-called “welfare check” on Rodger less than a month before the shooting, but, according to the department, deputies found the young man to be shy and socially awkward but seemingly harmless.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has since said that the procedure included no search of Rodger’s home or of firearms databases. Deputies also did not view the dozen or so videos that Rodger had uploaded to the Web. The videos, in which he expressed deeply disturbing and often misogynistic views, had prompted his alarmed mother to call police.
If passed, Capps’ legislation would allow concerned family members to seek a “gun violence prevention order” from the courts if someone appears to be a violent physical threat, the congresswoman said. A judge would then decide whether or not to issue a “gun violence prevention warrant” that would let law enforcement take temporary possession of the individual’s firearms.
However, the bill also looks to ensure law enforcement make “full use” of state and local gun databases when following up on tips and warnings like the one Rodger’s mother made, Capps said.
The Pause for Safety Act follows state-level efforts by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Das Williams, both Santa Barbara Democrats. AB 1014, a bill co-authored by Jackson and Williams, would establish a process for issuing a “gun violence restraining order” that would limit a person’s access to firearms for one year if he or she shows signs of being potentially violent.
Under AB 1014, a person must live with someone for at least six months before filing a gun violence restraining order against them. As with Capps’ proposed federal legislation, the state assembly bill puts the final decision in a judge’s hands, ensuring due process, Williams said.
“In the recent Isla Vista tragedy, family members saw the warning signs and took action. But they had no legal tools to prevent this mass killing,” Williams said. “This is common-sense policy. Mentally unstable individuals should not have access to deadly weapons.”
Senate Bill 505, proposed by Jackson, would require police to search state and local gun databases when conducting a welfare check.
“We are evaluating the gaps in our system and we need to fill them now,” Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr told reporters at the press conference.
“It’ll be another tool in the tool chest and we need so much more, but at least now we can get those two,” Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said.
A spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Police Department also expressed support for the bills.
Notably absent from the press conference was the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees law enforcement in Isla Vista, which is in unincorporated county territory. Several UCSB officials were present at the press conference but did not speak publicly. As of press time, the university has not released a statement regarding any of the recent legislative proposals.
Capps also discussed proposed revisions to the federal Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Protection Act. She called for extending firearms restrictions that apply to abusive spouses to “dating partners.” She also called for changes to the law that would extend gun restrictions on abusers who are under permanent restraining orders to those who are subject to temporary restraining orders. Convicted stalkers would also be subject to the restrictions, which currently apply only to convicted domestic violence abusers.