California has some of the toughest gun-control laws in America, but they didn't stop 22-year-old Elliot Rodger from legally purchasing three handguns and going on what authorities said was a killing spree that ended in the deaths of seven, including himself, in Santa Barbara County over the weekend.
Three of the victims, two of which were Rodger's roommates, were fatally stabbed during the Friday night rampage.
The young man from the San Fernando Valley seemed to have no problem obtaining guns despite the fact that his parents, concerned about his mental state, reported him to local sheriff's officials:
It's not clear if his mother's concerns in late April were registered before or after the weapons were purchased. But the tragic episode has renewed calls for stricter limits on who can purchase firearms.
According to a statement from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department:
Three 9mm semi-automatic handguns were recovered from the suspect's vehicle. Two of the guns were Sig-Sauer P226 models, and one was a Glock 34 long-slide. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted the Sheriff's Office in confirming that all of the weapons were legally purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers and were registered to the suspect. One weapon was purchased in Goleta, one in Oxnard and one in Burbank. All of the weapons were loaded. Rodger had in his possession 34 loaded ten round magazines for the Sig-Sauer pistol and 7 ten round magazines for the Glock pistol. Also recovered were five empty magazines for a Sig-Sauer pistol.
In California you can't purchase a firearm if: you've been admitted to a facility for mental health treatment; you've been found by a court to be a danger to others or yourself; you've ever been found not guilty by reason of insanity; you've been found mentally incompetent to stand trial; or you're under a under a court-ordered conservatorship as a result of mental illness or severe addiction.
In the wake of the Isla Vista killings, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence wants to add negative recommendations from family, mental health professionals or law enforcement, domestic violence convictions and restraining orders to that list.
For the recommendations, Amanda Wilcox, legislation and policy chair for the Brady Campaign's California chapters, says that some “due process” would have to take place in order to ensure that not just any family member, for example, could raise a flag and block a purchase:
People who clearly are at risk or have danger, they are not in a category of being prohibited persons. How do we identify those people? There needs to be due process, but a mother could initiate a process where her son could be prohibited from buying a firearm, and that could make a difference.
Wilcox lost her own 19-year-old daughter in 2001 to a shooter who had untreated schizophrenia:
This is an issue that my husband and I have been interested in for years. We have a plate full of [California] bills carried over from last year after the Newtown shooting. The Brady Campaign made a decision not to move this year, but that's now being reevaluated.
In a statement issued over the weekend, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein put it this way:
We must ask ourselves if an individual whose family called police with concerns about mental health, who is receiving therapy and who has had several run-ins with police should be allowed to own multiple firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Richard Martinez, the father of Isla Vista victim Christopher Martinez, only 20 when he died, lashed out at politicians for allegedly allowing gun-driven massacres to continue unabated as firearm-control legislation is stymied by the gun industry lobby:
Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris's right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, 'Stop this madness!' We don't have to live like this. Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, 'Not one more!'
Sam Paredes, executive director of the group Gun Owners of California, says firearm regulation is not the answer. He said his group would oppose any further state restrictions on gun ownership, even for folks alleged to have mental issues.
“We will continue to fight against all gun-control measures that make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to get weapons,” he told us.
He blamed those who knew of Rodger's issues and didn't do enough to ensure he was committed to a mental institution, which could have prevented firearms purchases:
As long as you put your attention to controlling guns, the more you'll miss the opportunity to deal with the root cause of these heinous atrocities. With all of them you have people with mental issues who have been under care. And somehow they're not utilizing the system to get these people identified as a danger.
Paredes says that the process to keep mental cases away from firearms exists under today's law in California, which is true.
“If folks would use that system as intended,” he said, “we could prevent these people from obtaining firearms.”
But what's the harm of adding an extra hurdle to the system, one in which red flags are raised if mothers, doctors or cops file objections and those objections are investigated and found to be valid?
Gun advocates would say your constitutional rights would suffer. Victims' families would say there's no harm done if we have to wait just a little longer to get our hands on a tool designed to kill.