UC Santa Barbara Shooting: Will Gun Laws Change?

Crime, News, Politics

Last month Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college student, carried out a mass murder on the edge of the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in Isla Vista, California. Rodger, who had significant and well-documented mental health issues (as evidenced by violent, misogynist ranting on YouTube and a lengthy manifesto entitled My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger), stabbed his three roommates, gunned down three UC Santa Barbara students, and randomly shot at passers-by and police before turning his gun on himself. As a tragic result, six people died and 13 were injured.

A familiar scene

It is a heartrending yet all-too-familiar scenario: mentally unstable white male procures gun and ambushes victims. In April, a similar rampage took place in Fort Hood, Texas, when U.S. Army Spc. Ivan Lopez killed three and wounded 16. In 2012, 40 innocent people — including many small children — were savagely shot in senseless attacks in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado. Just yesterday, a shooter killed one person and injured three on a university campus in Seattle, Washington. These events are just the most recent chapters in a long history of gun violence.

What is also familiar is the call for stricter gun control laws that arises after each episode. Coining the rallying phrase “Not One More,” Richard Martinez, father of victim Christopher Michaels-Martinez, is perhaps the most vocal and visible gun control advocate to emerge in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara crime. “Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians,” Martinez stated. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop?”

The standstill on gun control legislation

Some politicians are attempting to prevent acts of gun-related mass murder through legislation, but the road is daunting and divided down party lines. After one of the most horrific mass murders of all time — the killing of 20 elementary school children days before Christmas in Newtown, Connecticut — Congress could not push forward a bill calling for more stringent background checks on gun-owners.

Despite the fact that some states, like Indiana and Connecticut, have laws allowing authorities to remove firearms during and after a mental health incident, most states have not fared well in attempts to control gun access. Although nearly every state has enacted at least one new gun law in the time since Newtown, two-thirds have actually eased gun restrictions, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Most of these relaxed laws have been passed in predominantly Republican states, where the National Rifle Association and gun-owner rights are powerfully protected.

The overall political feeling is that, given the upcoming 2014 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fight to retain control of the Senate, gun control is a moot point. “[Federal gun control legislation] has a snowball’s chance in hell,” William Vizzard, professor of criminal law at California State University, Sacramento, explains. “The House is not going to move. …You’re not going to see anything significant in firearms legislation for years.”

Mental illness and misogyny to blame

It is not even certain that stricter gun laws would have prevented the Santa Barbara shootings, especially considering the fact that California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Other factors, like Rodger’s mental stability, come into play. Unlike illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension, for example, mental disorders are not always accompanied by straightforward diagnosis and treatment. Even truly disturbed sufferers like Rodger are sometimes able to hide symptoms from people who should know better. Consider the fact that Rodger’s mother asked police — just weeks before the killings — to check on her son after she viewed one of his troubling YouTube videos and feared he might harm himself. The authorities deemed him depressed but stable. “If they had demanded to search my room,” wrote Rodger in his manifesto, “that would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds, I thought it was all over.”

If Rodger was able to conceal his fragile mental state and the weapons he had amassed (according to a New York Times article he possessed at least 41 low-capacity magazines with over 400 rounds of ammunition — all bought legally), how could he have been stopped? One possibility is prosecuting people like Rodger for hate crimes. Unlike the murderers behind the Newtown and Aurora massacres, Rodger had a well-defined, hate-filled mission. His public postings and writings clearly reveal a vendetta against women — “sluts” who, he felt, rejected him and “gave” their “sex” to other men.

If Rodger was not deemed mentally ill, his video ranting could certainly be labeled violent, disturbing and threatening enough to warrant serious action or intervention by family, friends and even law enforcement or mental health officials. As Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor and gun laws expert explains, “He was advertising to people that he was a threat. If more people had acted on it and reported it, it’s possible law enforcement would have acted differently.”

With the dismal prospects for stricter gun control laws, “Not One More” will likely continue to be a bereaved plea after gruesome events, rather than a reality.