California lawmakers push 'gun violence restraining order' after mass killing

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Story highlights

  • Lawmakers seek a state law for families to keep guns away from troubled loved ones
  • The mass killing near Santa Barbara leads two California legislators to draft law
  • "We're sick and tired of people dying in mass killings," Santa Barbara legislator says
  • California has some of toughest gun control laws in country, analyst says

The mass killing near Santa Barbara, California, has prompted a proposal to create a "gun violence restraining order" that would temporarily bar a mentally unstable person from buying and possessing firearms after family, partners or friends call police.

State Assemblyman Das Williams, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, said Wednesday that the legislation is designed to prevent mass killings similar to last weekend's rampage that left seven people dead, including the suspected killer, in Isla Vista, the off-campus student community for the University of California at Santa Barbara and the local community college.

The proposed law would create a system where family members, friends and intimate partners could call police to intervene with troubled loved ones. Law enforcement would be able to investigate threats and ask a judge to issue an order prohibiting firearms purchases and possession, according to Williams and state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who both announced the legislation.

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Williams acknowledged that gun rights advocates are certain to challenge the proposal, but he contended the legislation would balance rights because a mentally unstable person would be entitled to a court hearing to overturn the order.

"If I was in Congress, I would be much more daunted about getting this passed," Williams told CNN. "I think here in California, people have determined that enough is enough. We're sick and tired of people dying in mass killings.

"It is not intrusive if the judge still has discretion over the matter at the end of the day," Williams said of the proposed law. "And we believe that in this case -- I'm not omniscient, I can't tell you for sure that the tragedy would have been avoided -- but what's unique about this case is that the mother and father knew there was going to be a problem, and at this point, in current law, there's no way for them to do something about it."

Williams was apparently referring to how a mental health agency had been concerned about Elliot Rodger, 22, the suspected killer in the weekend killings. The agency consulted one of Rodger's relatives and then called police to check on his welfare in April. Police visited Rodger but took no further action. On Friday, Rodger apparently killed himself after allegedly stabbing to death three people in his apartment and fatally shooting two women outside a sorority and a man inside a deli in Isla Vista.

The legislators say there is no mechanism to limit firearm access in most cases involving an individual in crisis while that person is in mental health therapy, substance abuse treatment or anger management, the legislators say.

Currently in California, family members may call police to intervene, but "if no crime has been committed, or the individual does not meet the criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there is essentially nothing that can be done to prevent that individual from purchasing firearms or to temporarily remove firearms from their possession during the crisis," the legislators said in a statement.

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CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins, a former public defender, echoed that current state law doesn't provide an intervention process for such scenarios.

"There's no mechanism for the police or for the public or for a mental health professional to basically say, 'we need to take a look at this individual,' just like we might yank somebody's driver's license for acting recklessly," Robbins said.

The legislation has a chance of being approved in California, Robbins said.

"California has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country," Robbins said.