Why didn’t strict gun laws stop it?

Cal­i­for­nia has been known as a model for firearms reg­u­la­tions

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By John Wool­folk jwool­folk@ba­yare­anews­group.com ‘THIS CAN’T BE NOR­MAL­IZED’

The Wed­nes­day night shoot­ing mas­sacre at a Thou­sand Oaks coun­try mu­sic bar was the kind of tragedy that would seem more likely in states such as Ne­vada or Florida, known for per­mis­sive gun reg­u­la­tions that al­low mil­i­tarystyle semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and high- ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines.

But it hap­pened in Cali- for­nia, seen as a model for firearm reg­u­la­tions and the only state given an “A” rat­ing by the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence’s an­nual gun law score card.

The shoot­ing that took 13 lives, in­clud­ing the gun­man who au­thor­i­ties said ap­par­ently killed him­self, im­me­di­ately sparked de­bate over the ef­fec­tive­ness of gun reg­u­la­tions and whether new or dif­fer­ent laws or en­force­ment ef­forts are needed.

“This can’t be nor­mal­ized,” Gov­er­nor-elect Gavin New­som said of the shoot­ings at a Thurs­day morn­ing news con­fer­ence in San

Fran­cisco. “This is Amer­ica, it’s got to change. This doesn’t hap­pen any­where else on the planet. The re­sponse can­not just be more prayers, more ex­cuses. It sure as hell can­not be more guns.”

But gun- rights ad­vo­cates said Thurs­day that the shoot­ing shows hu­man be­hav­ior, not guns, is the prob­lem.

“Gun con­trol pro­po­nents like Gavin New­som are ir­ra­tionally com­mit­ted to pass­ing more and more laws that just don’t pre­vent vi­o­lent peo­ple from do­ing evil things,” said Bran­don Combs, pres­i­dent of the Firearms Pol­icy Coali­tion. “He and other anti-gun ad­vo­cates are the em­bod­i­ment of in­san­ity, do­ing the same things over and over again while ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults.”

In many ways, Wed­nes­day night’s shoot­ing seemed like some­thing Cal­i­for­nia law would have hin­dered.

The gun­man, iden­ti­fied as a 28-year- old Marine Corps vet­eran, was armed with a legally pur­chased Glock .45- cal­iber hand­gun mod­i­fied with what law en­force­ment of­fi­cials called an “ex­tended mag­a­zine” that holds ad­di­tional rounds of am­mu­ni­tion. The gun’s stan­dard mag­a­zine holds 13 rounds and an ex­tended mag­a­zine holds more. Cal­i­for­nia law lim­its mag­a­zines to a 10-round ca­pac­ity, but that law is on hold be­cause of a le­gal chal­lenge from gun-rights ad­vo­cates.

Cal­i­for­nia in 2014 also be­came the first state to en­act a Gun Vi­o­lence Re­strain­ing Or­der law al­low­ing con­cerned fam­ily mem­bers to pe­ti­tion a court to tem­po­rar­ily re­move firearms from a rel­a­tive who is found to pose a clear dan­ger to the pub­lic or their own safety dur­ing a men­tal cri­sis.

But there was no in­di­ca­tion such an in­ter­ven­tion was sought in this case, even though the gun­man , who lived in nearby New­bury Park, had a his­tory of men­tal health prob­lems that had led to vis­its from law en­force­ment. Neigh­bors said that the gun­man suf­fered from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Af­ter a neigh­bor re­ported loud noises com­ing from the shooter’s house in April, deputies re­sponded and found a man “act­ing a lit­tle ir­ra­tionally.” They called a men­tal-health spe­cial­ist who as­sessed him but con­cluded he couldn’t be in­vol­un­tar­ily com­mit­ted for psy­chi­atric ob­ser­va­tion.

A neigh­bor told CNN that the gun­man’s mother “lived in fear” of what her son might do and that when po­lice were called to the house ear­lier this year “it took them about a half a day to get him out of the house.”

The neigh­bor, Richard Berge, said the shooter’s mother told him that while she didn’t fear for her own safety, she was con­cerned about her son and “kind of be­side her­self. She didn’t know what to do be­cause he wouldn’t get help.”

Garen J. Win­te­mute, an emer­gency medicine physi­cian at UC Davis Med­i­cal Cen­ter and di­rec­tor of the Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion Re­search Pro­gram, said there was noth­ing in the gun­man’s record that would have pre­vented him from arm­ing him­self.

“He wasn’t a pro­hib­ited per­son and the ban on pos­ses­sion of high- ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines is tied up in court,” Win­te­mute said.

But he said that a Gun Vi­o­lence Re­strain­ing Or­der “would have been use­ful and might have come into play in April.”

Wed­nes­day’s tragedy was the dead­li­est U.S. mass shoot­ing since Feb. 14 when an ex­pelled 19- year- old stu­dent al­legedly killed 17 class­mates and fac­ulty at his for­mer high school in Park­land, Florida, a Valen­tine’s Day mas­sacre that re­newed the na­tional de­bate over gun laws.

And it fol­lowed a string of other mass shoot­ings around the coun­try, in­clud­ing a gun­man who mas­sa­cred 11 peo­ple at a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue last month.

Cal­i­for­nia has long been a leader in en­act­ing gun re­stric­tions in­spired by tragedies, in­clud­ing the 1989 shoot­ing of five school­child­ren at a Stock­ton el­e­men­tary school and the 1993 shoot­ing of eight peo­ple at a San Fran­cisco law of­fice. Those mass shoot­ings led the state to ban mil­i­tary- style semi­au­to­matic “as­sault weapons,” as well as a U. S. ban that was al­lowed to ex­pire in 2004 af­ter a fed­eral study found in­con­clu­sive ev­i­dence of its ef­fec­tive­ness.

In ad­di­tion to the bans on as­sault weapons, high­ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines and the gun vi­o­lence re­strain­ing or­ders, Cal­i­for­nia gun laws in­clude a 10- day wait­ing pe­riod on gun pur­chases and re­quir­ing buy­ers to ob­tain a safety cer­tifi­cate af­ter pass­ing a writ­ten test.

Oth­ers laws re­quire back­ground checks on gun buy­ers, limit hand­gun pur­chases to one a month, li­cens­ing all gun deal­ers, re­quir­ing records of all firearm sales, ban­ning in­ex­pen­sive “Satur­day night spe­cial” hand­guns as un­safe, and al­low­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to deny a con­cealed carry per­mit. Am­mu­ni­tion must be bought from a li­censed dealer.

Cal­i­for­nia has a one- ofa-kind Armed and Pro­hib­ited Per­sons Sys­tem, de­vel­oped in 1999 and up­dated in 2006, that is de­signed to keep guns out of the hands of con­victed crim­i­nals and the men­tally ill. It au­to­mat­i­cally tracks firearm own­ers and dis­arms con­victed crim­i­nals, peo­ple with cer­tain men­tal ill­nesses, and oth­ers deemed dan­ger­ous.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a num­ber of new gun reg­u­la­tions this year, in­clud­ing one rais­ing the age to legally buy ri­fles from 18 to 21, the same age the state re­quires for hand­gun pur­chases.

Ad­vo­cates say the thicket of firearm reg­u­la­tions has helped — Cal­i­for­nia ranks 43rd out of the 50 states in gun deaths per capita, ac­cord­ing to the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence.

Even so, Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ues to see its share of mass shoot­ings. In March, a for­mer sol­dier fa­tally shot three men­tal health work­ers with a ri­fle at a vet­er­ans home in Yountville be­fore tak­ing his own life. In Novem­ber 2017, a de­ranged man with a his­tory of crim­i­nal vi­o­lence and barred from own­ing guns fa­tally shot five peo­ple in Te­hama County with an as­sault ri­fle be­fore be­ing killed by po­lice.

In De­cem­ber 2015, a mar­ried cou­ple armed with mil­i­tary-style as­sault ri­fles and semi­au­to­matic pis­tols fa­tally shot 14 peo­ple in a ter­ror­ist at­tack at a San Bernardino County hol­i­day party be­fore be­ing killed by po­lice.

The San Bernardino cou- ple, in­spired by the Is­lamic State, got the ri­fles from a friend who bought them legally at the time in Cal­i­for­nia. The Te­hama County gun­man used a home­made “ghost gun” built from parts that can be legally pur­chased.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, who has made a ca­reer out of push­ing for tighter gun re­stric­tions, said Thurs­day that the coun­try’s spate of mass shoot­ings have one thing in com­mon: “easy ac­cess to guns.”

“Some will say Cal­i­for­nia’s strong gun laws didn’t pre­vent this shoot­ing,” Fe­in­stein said in a state­ment. “But with­out stronger fed­eral gun reg­u­la­tions, there’s lit­tle Cal­i­for­nia can do to keep guns com­ing in from other states.”

The Thou­sand Oaks gun­man, how­ever, used a com­mon semi­au­to­matic pis­tol that au­thor­i­ties said he bought legally in Ven­tura. It was un­clear where or how he got the ex­tended mag­a­zine, which Ven­tura County Sher­iff Ge­off Dean called il­le­gal.

The sher­iff lost one of his own sergeants in the shoot­ing, com­pound­ing the tragedy that fell on Dean’s last week on the job be­fore he re­tires af­ter 40 years.

“It can’t be any worse,” the sher­iff said.

RMG NEWS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this im­age taken from video, a vic­tim is car­ried from the scene of a shoot­ing Wed­nes­day in Thou­sand Oaks.

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