Two bills inspired by Elliot Rodger’s lethal rampage in Isla Vista this spring — which left seven dead, including Rodger, and 13 injured — cleared both houses of the State Legislature this weekend and now await action by Governor Jerry Brown. Though Rodger stabbed three of his victims to death, both bills — one introduced by Santa Barbara’s Assemblymember Das Williams and the other by Santa Barbara’s State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson — seek to limit the body count a person with serious mental illness and armed with guns could inflict.
Williams’s bill — which he cosponsored with Assemblymember Nancy Skinner — would allow law enforcement, blood relatives, or roommates of someone suspected of posing a serious threat to themselves or others to seek a judge’s order to remove any firearms from that person’s possession. Although the Williams bill cleared both chambers handily, it encountered some last-minute flak from the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment rights organizations that testified and mobilized robo-calls from throughout the state against it. Williams stressed these calls came from outside the district and insisted that the measure enjoyed strong bipartisan support in both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
At issue was the level of due process governing the decision-making process. Williams said the bill was amended to require a higher burden of proof for a judge to issue such an order. The target of such an action would have to wait 21 days to file an appeal contesting the decision. “If the judge screws up, the person gets a chance to make their case 21 days later, and they get their guns back,” Williams said. “But if someone gets shot to death by a madman with a gun, well, they don’t get a chance to come back 21 days later.”
Jackson’s bill seeks to encourage law enforcement personnel, when conducting welfare checks, to find out whether the individual owns a gun. Had the Sheriff’s deputies conducting a welfare check on Rodger — at the instigation of his mother — looked up his name for gun registration, they would have discovered he’d purchased three handguns within months of the melee. “When they interviewed Rodger, he presented very well,” Jackson said. “But if the deputies knew he’d just bought three semi-automatic handguns, they might have asked a few more follow-up questions.” Jackson’s bill does not require the gun ownership review. Instead, it requires that law enforcement agencies develop a protocol to address such eventualities. Law enforcement agencies, Jackson noted, were adamant they needed the flexibility to respond as the individual circumstances dictated, not according to a legislative formula.
Neither Williams nor Jackson would hazard a guess how Gov. Brown might act on either bill. “He’s got a 50-50 voting record when it comes to gun control issues,” said Jackson. Williams added, “He really needs to hear from people in Santa Barbara and Ventura. The governor has expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, and I appreciate that, but we need more than that. We need action.”