elias column sig

State, national columnists

If not Isla Vista, what can keep guns from mentally ill?

By From page A11 | June 25, 2014

As the round of memorial services for the six students fatally stabbed and shot in late May by the psychotic killer Elliot Rodger recedes into memory, a serious public policy question remains even while families and friends are left with their private grief:

If the Isla Vista killings can’t spur laws to keep guns away from people diagnosed as mentally ill, what can?

It now seems likely that despite some big talk from U.S. senators immediately after Rodger’s murderous spree on the edge of the University of California, Santa Barbara campus, there is little chance the federal government will do much. There may be more of a possibility for action by the state Legislature, far less influenced by the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby, but even there it’s unrealistic to expect anything.

One thing for sure: Every legal expert agrees that Rodger bought his guns legally, despite having a mental illness diagnosis. One therapist described him as pre-psychotic. On the day he decided to prove – in his own words – that he was a true “alpha male,” the prefix came off his diagnosis and he was just plain psychotic, which Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as “having . . . . a very serious mental illness that makes you act strangely or believe things that are not true.”

Law professors consulted after the killings said such a diagnosis does not generally affect a person’s ability to own a gun, even in California, with some of America’s toughest gun controls.

Rodger, with no criminal record, never previously having threatened anyone (except in the YouTube videos which were mostly ignored), never having been deemed a risk to himself or others and no history of addiction, raised no red flags when purchasing semiautomatic handguns.

Another certainty in this case: The fact that Rodger stabbed his first few victims demonstrates that no matter what controls are put on guns, violent people can still find ways to kill.

But there’s no reason to make it easy for them. That’s why Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said immediately after Isla Vista that he would try to revive gun legislation which failed to pass in the aftermath of the 2012 murders of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.

Blumenthal said that if Congress fails to take at least most guns from the mentally ill, it will be complicit in future shootings.

This, of course, raises many civil liberties questions: Should a person be deprived of Second Amendment rights if he or she has never threatened anyone or been deemed a threat to himself or herself? Should police have the right to search for weapons in the homes and cars of every mentally ill person, even if those people appear to be “quiet and timid,” as Rodger was described by sheriff’s deputies who visited him shortly before his spree? How can police determine a gun owner is mentally ill when they’re not mental health professionals? How can they tell if, like Rodger, someone has refused to take prescribed anti-psychotic medication?

Blumenthal said his legislation would allow for these questions and deploy “professionals trained in diagnosing and preventing this kind of derangement.” California’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed also letting families ask a court to temporarily prohibit gun purchases based on a credible risk of physical harm to self and others.

The top priority, though, has to be preservation of human life. In the past 14 years, there have been more mass killings of the Newtown/Isla Vista/Virginia Tech sort in this country than in the rest of the world combined. The vast majority of lives taken came via shootings.

Which means something is amiss. Does that mean no person in psychotherapy should have a gun? Does it mean police should have the right to question every gun owner?

Probably not. But if mental illness is the common denominator in mass killings from the Texas Tower to Newtown, Columbine and Isla Vista, then it’s high time to make it much harder for the mentally ill to acquire firearms of any kind, no matter how carefully laws doing this must be crafted.

Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at [email protected]

Thomas Elias


Discussion | 10 comments

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  • BobJune 25, 2014 - 6:59 am

    No mention of mental problems buying a car used to kill students. The problem is no one wants to mention mental problems they see and if they do the police can't and won't do anything about the warnings they are given quoting some dumb law about why they can't. So until we quite being so PC we trip over everything we do and people feel they can trust telling the police that so and so has mental problems the past can and will repeat itself again and again. It's not the metal,in the knives, guns, cars, not the bullets, it's the PEOPLE. The ones we ignore, the ones we don't see, the ones that we watch being BULLIED and do nothing about it. The bottom line is remember the past because it will happen again if we aren't careful and try to help out others especially if they are being bullied and need help.PLEASE!

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  • 2dAmendment Is Still the LawJune 25, 2014 - 7:08 am

    Elias asserts: "In the past 14 years, there have been more mass killings of the Newtown/Isla Vista/Virginia Tech sort in this country than in the rest of the world combined." I challenge Elias to prove this with numbers. I think it is another bogus item put out by Nanny Bloomberg. Baloney of this sort hinders intelligent discussion of the problem.

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  • Larry WJune 25, 2014 - 12:21 pm

    Elias needs to go to the religion of peace website to get the correct numbers on some of the violence that goes on in this world.

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  • PornacJune 25, 2014 - 7:34 am

    If the roommates had been armed, this would have been prevented. The government should be giving away guns to everyone.

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  • rlw895June 25, 2014 - 9:38 pm

    Having the most free access and rules for possession of guns in the world should tell us we also need the best mental health care in the world. We should tax firearms and ammunition to help pay for that. We should also have stronger national minimum standards for background checks to purchase a gun. But a one-time check is not enough. We also need national gun registration laws that require new background checks with each renewal.

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  • 2dAmendment Is Still the LawJune 26, 2014 - 6:56 am

    Wrong again, rlw895. Your kumbaya proposals will do nothing to stop sick or bad people from doing terrible things. "Registration" is the first step toward confiscation as has been shown time after time throughout history. As the London Times stated after a recent mass shooting in gun free (almost) UK, the strictest gun laws in the world would not have prevented that shooting.

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  • rlw895June 26, 2014 - 7:51 am

    And you're wrong again about gun confiscation being a real threat in the United States. Not with the Second Amendment and our democracy. You're also wrong about what I said doing "nothing." In your dreams. You're confusing not doing everything with doing nothing.

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  • The SugarJarJune 26, 2014 - 12:43 am

    Mental illnesses and physical illnesses are not well-handled in our country. Most folks with mental illness are not violent. Most folks with guns do not misuse them accidently or deliberately. The availablity of guns, poorly treated illness, both factors contributary to the prolem of violence, but unlikely causal. some of the more indepth, thorough, explorations of violence I've seem lately come from more inclusive feminist circles (from both men & women). Belief that treatment for illness is a privilege, not a right, doesn't work well with the belief that gun ownership is a right, not a privilege. Since we have to live where there are other people, it isn't working. For a functioning society that serves us all, picking a few scapegoats as the reason there are problems, well, that won't help. Perhaps it is even a cause of our problems. All the other stuff may be symptoms of an exclusionary mind set.

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  • CD BrooksJune 26, 2014 - 7:15 am

    We need training, registration and ongoing certification for every gun owner. Once established, everybody not following that policy should be arrested and guns confiscated. The assault weapons/ammo ban is necessary and should be enforced. Obey the law, go through proper channels and observe gun safety. Do you know if your neighbor or your kids’ friend's parents have guns in the home? Would you allow your kids to stay and or play in homes that have guns? BAD IDEA! Be honest and let PD know where the guns are, that is a proper start to the madness. That way they get registered. Stop hollering about amendments and mental disputes, that isn't going to solve these issues. STOP being dumb, nobody is taking your guns if you follow the law!

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  • Rick WoodJune 26, 2014 - 7:54 am

    We need people who are depressed to have somewhere to turn other than suicide. ObamaCare will help with that, but we need much more.

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