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June 24, 2014
Editorial: If only someone could have kept Elliot Rodger from his guns

UCSB_memorial.JPG(June 24 - By the Editorial Board)

Long before Elliot Rodger broke down and committed mass murder in Santa Barbara, people around him knew that he was psychologically troubled and possibly armed.

Former roommates in Isla Vista recalled overhearing his angry phone conversations and the repeated click of what sounded like a gun behind the door of his bedroom.

His parents were so concerned about his deteriorating mental state that they asked local authorities to check in on him in April.

But the roommates kept their fears to themselves, pulling away and eventually moving out rather than risking involvement. And when those authorities went to his apartment, Rodger held himself together long enough to convince them that he wasn't a threat to himself or others, including new roommates who would end up among his victims.

Under current law, his parents' concerns didn't meet the threshold for potential confiscation of the guns and ammunition he had been stockpiling. Those gun purchases were unassailable, too. He had been in therapy for most of his young life, but he was never detained under 5150 of the Welfare and Institutions Code as being a danger to himself or others, a step that would have barred him from buying or owning guns.

So despite mounting evidence that the isolated young man was a clear and present danger, people who were closest to the situation were helpless to head him off.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, authors of Assembly Bill 1014, believe that it would have made all the difference if California had a "gun violence prevention restraining order" to help keep firearms out of the hands of the unbalanced and the violently disturbed.

Skinner, Williams and Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, have worked hard to craft a feasible first step in the wake of the tragedy at Isla Vista.

Substantially narrowed and toned down from its initial incarnation, which would have let virtually anyone petition for the revocation of anyone else's firearms, the new and improved AB 1014 would let immediate family members, physicians and therapists alert law enforcement and the courts that a close relative or patient is in crisis and a threat to himself or herself, or others.

A judge could then grant a restraining order temporarily banning the person from purchasing or possessing firearms. The standard presumably would not be as hard to meet as it is for a 5150 hold. Still, the AB 1014 process could take days, and the judge would have to find a "substantial likelihood" of danger, though law enforcement authorities also could seek an emergency order to act more quickly.

Guns would be returned if the person were deemed harmless, and penalties would be assessed on anyone who petitioned on false grounds or used the process for harassment. The ban would last 14 days, or up to a year if a hearing showed an extension was needed.

The bill passed the Senate Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday and moves next to the Appropriations Committee. That hearing has not been scheduled yet. Whether this bill will become law is unclear. Nor would it be a guarantee against the next rampage.

In Indiana, where authorities can seize firearms without a warrant from any person they deem dangerous, a 2010 study showed that the vast majority of confiscations have been from suicidal people, not psychotics. Still, a life saved is a life saved.

Nonetheless, this restraining order is a common-sense tactic worth trying. Deranged people shouldn't have access to guns.

We all know this, just as the people around Elliot Rodger knew that he was being consumed by his rage and paranoia and that something, somehow, had to be done.