California killings: Another trail of dead. Another search for sanity on gun control after Elliot Rodger rampage
The heartfelt response of one bereaved father pricked America’s conscience. But the right to bear arms is unlikely to be circumscribed
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Sunday 25 May 2014
There were renewed calls for stricter gun laws in the US on Sunday, following Friday night’s shooting spree in the southern California college town of Isla Vista, which left seven dead including the gunman, British-born Elliot Rodger. Rodger, who was 22, is also suspected of having stabbed to death a further three victims at his apartment close to the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Police recovered three semi-automatic handguns and more than 40 10-round magazines belonging to Rodger, a student at Santa Barbara City College. All three firearms had been purchased legally and registered to the suspect.
On Saturday night, several hundred students and community members marched from UCSB to a park in Isla Vista, where a vigil was held to mourn the victims.
Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son Christopher was among the dead, told reporters he blamed the gun lobby for his son’s death. “Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” Mr Martinez said. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live?”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said yesterday he wanted to revive gun control legislation rejected by Congress in the wake of the Newtown school massacre in the state in 2012, saying it could have helped prevent this weekend’s deadly events.
Mr Blumenthal said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the legislation, which failed last year, could be revised.
“Obviously, not every kind of gun violence is going to be prevented by laws out of Washington,” he said. “But at least we can make a start and I am going to urge that we bring back those bills, maybe reconfigure them.”
“Congress will be complicit if we fail in that,” he added.
Warning: Some viewers may find the following video disturbing
Alan Shifman, a lawyer for the Rodger family, said they too supported stricter gun control laws. Dan Gross, president of the gun control advocacy group the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement: “Although the circumstances of this attack are under investigation, we do know that real solutions exist to prevent most of the 90 gun deaths that happen in our nation every day, and that those solutions are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans.”
Police believe Friday’s killings began when Rodger stabbed to death three flatmates at his apartment complex. At around 9.30pm, he allegedly approached a nearby UCSB sorority house and opened fire on three women, killing two of them. According to Bill Brown of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the suspect then went to a local delicatessen, where he shot dead Chris Martinez, a UCSB student. Students comfort each other at a vigil to honour the victims
Rodger then drove through the streets of Isla Vista, firing on pedestrians at random. He exchanged fire with sheriff’s deputies before crashing his BMW into a parked car. He was found dead in the driver’s seat, from what authorities said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
There is little likelihood, however, that the incident will lead to significant changes in existing federal gun laws. A concerted effort by the Obama administration to strengthen firearms legislation in the wake of the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was stopped by stiff resistance from the gun lobby and its allies in Congress.
President Obama claimed at least one small triumph last year, when he signed an executive order lifting a 1996 ban on federal research into gun violence. Last week, Democrats in Congress introduced a bill that would allocate $10m (£6m) to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to study the causes and effects of gun violence. Richard Martinez talks about his son, Christopher, one of Elliot Rodger’s victims
That legislation is backed by the former Nasa astronaut and leading gun control advocate Mark Kelly, whose wife Gabrielle Giffords, a former Democrat congresswoman, suffered a major head injury during a mass shooting at an event in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011. Responding to the violence in Isla Vista, Mr Kelly said: “Every time we learn of another senseless shooting like this one, our hearts break and we know that no words will bring peace to the families who lost loved ones.”
Following Friday’s shootings, it emerged that the authorities had encountered Rodger on at least three previous occasions. In July last year, he had called police to claim that he was the victim of an assault, yet the deputy who responded to the call determined that Rodger himself had probably been the aggressor. No charges were filed. In January, Rodger reported his flatmate for stealing three candles, worth $22. The flatmate was booked for petty theft.
In April, a member of Rodger’s family alerted the authorities to a series of troubling videos that the 22-year-old had posted to YouTube, in which he spoke of his extreme loneliness and resentment of women, and made threats of violence and suicide. Police reportedly visited Rodger’s apartment, found him “polite and courteous”, and left.
In a 137-page document written by the suspect and later obtained by the media, Rodger mentioned the recent police visit to his apartment, saying that he feared the officer would find the stash of weapons in his room. “That would have ended everything,” he wrote.
Yet none of their encounters with Rodger gave the authorities any serious cause for suspicion; instead, those missed opportunities merely demonstrate the difficulty of predicting and preventing such random outbursts of violence. In the 17 months since 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adult staff at Sandy Hook, more than 70 further shootings have occurred on US school campuses.
Police are now investigating Rodger’s final video, entitled “Elliot Rodger’s retribution”, which was posted on YouTube shortly before the shootings on Friday. In the recording, Rodger sat in his car, looking into the camera and laughing as he promised a “day of retribution”.
Guns in the Golden state: the rules
Buying a firearm
Firearms must be bought via a licensed dealer, and every sale is recorded by the state, which imposes a 10-day waiting period on purchases. Prospective gun owners must pass a written test to obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate.
Assault weapon ban
Assault weapons and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition are banned, and while California residents don’t need a permit to own a firearm, they must have one to carry it outside their home or business.
Permit for concealed arms
To obtain a concealed weapons permit, California residents are required to complete a training course, to demonstrate “good moral character” and to prove that they have “good cause” to carry the gun. California is one of just 11 US states that demands applicants meet such conditions.
In February, a federal court struck down the clause requiring residents to show “good cause” for carrying a concealed weapon. Yet the state’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, called the decision a threat to public safety, and demanded a review of the ruling. An appeal is pending.
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