The mass shooter who killed nine before taking his own life at an Oregon community college grew up in Southern California before moving to the Beaver State with his mother a few years ago.
California's strict gun control laws might not have prevented such a tragedy closer to home, but advocates are working on it.
In fact, AB 1014 by former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley has already been signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and is expected to be implemented Jan. 1. The bill, known as the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, allows family members, police and psychiatric professionals to seek temporary bans on gun buying for people considered to be mentally unstable.
The Oregon shooter, identified as 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer, had 14 guns and brought with him six of the weapons when he opened fire at a class he attended at Umpqua Community College. Although some of the guns in his possession were purchased by relatives, all were bought legally.
Beginning next year in California, relatives and others concerned about a gun owner's state of mind can ask a court to take their guns away.
The bill was signed more than a year ago but then its implementation was delayed so that courts and the state Department of Justice could have more time to figure out how it might work, said a longtime advocate for the law, Amanda Wilcox, legislation and policy chair for the Brady Campaign's California chapters.
In 2001, Wilcox lost her teenage daughter to a shooter who had untreated schizophrenia.
“What we see in the Tucson, Aurora and Oregon mass shootings is that there are people who clearly have some mental health issue, anger or hatred who are dangerous and shouldn't have access to firearms,” she said, “yet because they haven't been convicted or been told to go to a mental health facility, they are not prohibited from doing so.”
Wilcox says the law will not take weapons away from stable folks who hunt or use them for self-protection. Rather, it could prevent the kind of violence that Oregon witnessed last week.
In the case of Harper-Mercer, however, even if he lived under the new law, it might not have prevented tragedy. While some neighbors said he might have been mentally ill, his mother was reportedly an avid gun-rights advocate who bought up weapons for fear that stricter laws would take them away. If that's true, she might not have been the type to turn him in.
Gun control, however, is about saving lives overall, and not preventing each and every death, Wilcox argued. The Golden State's strict gun-ownership rules have correlated with a 56 percent decline in gun deaths from 1993 to 2010, according to one study. “We can't stop all of them, but we can bring down the rates,” she said.
“How do we disarm those dangerous people before violence happens?” Wilcox said. “I think AB 1014 can fill that gap.”
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