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The UC Santa Barbara Shooting Renews Push For Stronger Gun Laws

Tragedy struck the Isla Vista community this Memorial Day weekend when a gunman opened fired at the UC Santa Barbara campus, killing six and wounding thirteen others before taking his own life. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, left YouTube videos and a 141-page manifesto describing his anger at women and sexual repression, vowing “retribution.” He also was receiving psychiatric treatment in the months prior to the rampage. Just weeks before the tragedy, seven Sheriff’s deputies responded to Rodger’s apartment after his mother reported concerns about Rodger’s mental state. The officers concluded that Rodger was not an imminent risk and did not conduct a search of his apartment. Writing in his manifesto discovered after the shooting, Rodger described the encounter: “If they had demanded to search my room that would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over.”

Because of the details of the gunman’s history, the incident has sparked a renewed debate about the relationship between mental illness, guns, and violence against women. In the online reaction to the tragedy, nothing has matched the conversation that began with a simple hashtag, #YesAllWomen, which reached a peak of 51,000 posts per hour. The hashtag is a response to a “Not all men” meme that’s surfaced over the past few months. “Not all men” is an objection that’s used to dismiss the issue of violence against women and misogyny in society, simply because not all men are like that.

Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, has turned immediately to criticize America’s gun laws and the politicians who refuse to change them. “Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” Martinez said less than 24 hours after losing his son. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live?”

Meanwhile, as the victims’ families and community try to heal, and as the nation once again finds itself in the aftermath of a mass shooting, the question remains about what can be done to help prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening again. And while no single solution can prevent an instance of gun violence like this one, the fact is there are steps we can take. Here are just a few:

1. Do More To Keep Guns Out Of The Hands Of Seriously Mentally Ill People. Federal law prohibits certain people from possessing firearms, including those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or have been adjudicated “mentally defective.” These prohibitions, and associated background checks, work: they’ve blocked more that 2.1 million prohibited persons. In particular, one study found that when Connecticut submitted mental illness records to the FBI background check system, it resulted in a 50 percent drop in violent crime by mentally ill persons in the state. But the current federal mental illness prohibition is under-inclusive and not sufficiently flexible. While mental health records in the FBI system have risen ten times since the Virginia Tech shooting (where the gunman would have been prohibited from buying a gun if his record had been submitted), millions more mental illness, fugitive, and domestic abuser records are still missing. And in many cases, mass shooters, like those in Tucson, AZ and Aurora, CO, have had significant mental illness histories that did not even trigger the current federal prohibition. There should therefore an intermediate step through which law enforcement can temporarily disarm individuals who appear to pose an imminent threat to public safety. If we take these steps – and require background checks on all gun sales – more shootings will be prevented.

2. Take Steps To Prevent Violence Against Women. Women are particularly vulnerable to gun violence, especially victims of domestic violence and stalking. In fact, more than one in three women will experience rape, violence, and/or stalking at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Access to firearms dramatically increases the risk that domestic abuse will turn fatal: the presence of a gun increases the risk of homicide of an intimate partner by eight times compared to households without guns and this risk increases by 20 times when there is a history of domestic violence in the family. Federal and state laws should be strengthened to better protect women from gun violence at the hands of dangerous abusers and stalkers.

BOTTOM LINE: There is no single solution to an instance of gun violence like the terrible events at UC Santa Barbara. But there are proven, evidence-based approaches to keep guns away from dangerous people that don’t sacrifice anybody’s Second Amendment rights. By implementing them, we can save lives of innocent Americans young and old and reduce the anguish from parents like Richard Martinez, left only to ask, “when will this insanity stop?”

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