California lawmakers are calling for increased restrictions on gun purchases for individuals who are suspected of having mental health issues and could pose a threat to themselves or others, theAP/Sacramento Bee reports. The legislation comes after six people were killed last week by an individual with suspected mental health issues.
Background on Killings
On May 23, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six individuals by stabbing or shooting them and wounded 13 others in Isla Vista, Calif. Rodger had legally purchased three semi-automatic guns and ammunition used in the attack (Dillon/Thompson, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/28).
The incident occurred after Rodger’s family members had contacted the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department on April 30 with concerns about his mental health. Police conducted a welfare visit and concluded that Rodger did not pose a risk (Pickert, Time, 5/27).
Details of Legislation
Following the killings, California lawmakers proposed changes to the state’s rules for purchasing guns.
Assembly members Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) have introduced a bill that would allow temporary restraining orders to prevent individuals who are potentially violent from purchasing guns. Under the bill, family members and friends could contact law enforcement if they believe an individual could be a threat to themselves or others, and officers then could ask a judge for the temporary restraining order (Mason, “PolitiCal,” Los Angeles Times, 5/27).
Under current state law, individuals can be banned from buying firearms only if they are involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
Skinner said, “When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get back their guns or prevent them from buying more.”
In addition, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the state should require law enforcement officers to check for weapons when conducting welfare visits, such as the one that took place at Rodger’s residence on April 30. In addition, Steinberg suggested that officers should search the area when called on such visits and speak with roommates and neighbors (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/28).
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said the new legislation limiting gun purchases is unnecessary. Parades said, “We don’t need another bill to solve this problem. The tools are there — the Legislature and the professionals involved need to be willing to understand and take advantage of the system that is there in place” (“PolitiCal,” Los Angeles Times, 5/27).
Meanwhile, a spokesperson with the California chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness noted that only 30 law enforcement employees in Santa Barbara County undergo crisis-intervention training each year. However, the official said increasing such training still might “not be enough to respond” to such violent incidents.
NAMI California Executive Director Jessica Cruz added that there often is a lack of funding for mental health prevention and treatment, noting that the state has fewer than 50% of the number of psychiatric in-patient hospital beds as recommended by an expert panel (Time, 5/27).