UPDATE: House Democrats introduce mental health gun measure

The shootings in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara have revived calls for more gun control laws on Capitol Hill.
The shootings in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara have revived calls for more gun control laws on Capitol Hill.
Gaudry Puéchavy

House Democrats today unveiled what they call a “major mental health gun violence prevention” bill. It’s the first gun legislation introduced by Congress in the wake of the shootings near UC Santa Barbara. But it's questionable whether the Promoting Healthy Minds for Safer Communities Act of 2014 would have done anything to prevent the killings last weekend.

Mental Health

The measure includes money for local mental health programs and support for the courts and crisis intervention teams that work with those with mental health issues. It also directs Health and Human Services to conduct research on violence associated with mental illness.

Gun Issues

The measure expands domestic violence protections, keeping guns away from those convicted of stalking. It also clarifies federal law to allow doctors to ask questions about gun-related issues. It also prohibits the purchase of firearms by those involuntarily committed to outpatient psychiatric care if the court thinks the individual poses a threat. Current law only applies to inpatient commitments. Elliot Rodger was questioned by sheriff's deputies shortly before he killed six people. But his behavior convinced authorities that he was not a threat. 

California Democrat Mike Thompson, head of the gun violence prevention task force, says we can’t prevent everything, but that’s no excuse to do nothing. "If we cannot do everything we can to provide a first line of defense to keep guns away from and out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill and the criminals, it’s a sorry state of affairs." 

The bill has 20 co-sponsors: all Democrats. Thompson says he's "shopped this with some Republican colleagues" and will continue to do so. He touts his success at attracting GOP backing for a background check amendment that passed the House Thursday night.

Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps represents Isla Vista and took to the House floor twice this week to call for Congressional action. She's a co-sponsor of Thompson's bill, but hints the state legislature is more likely to take action before Congress. But she says some of the "ingredients" of this bill could give California lawmakers the tools needed to "move in the direction its people want to see."

Late Friday, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California announced that she'll introduce her own gun legislation. Boxer says it's "haunting" that the family of the Isla Vista gunman "was desperate to stop a tragedy, and yet they lacked the tools to do so." 

Boxer's The Pause for Safety Act would allow families to go to court to temporarily stop someone who poses a danger to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm. It would also allow law enforcement to take temporary possession of firearms that have already been purchased if a court determines that the individual poses a threat to themselves or others.

Boxer's bill is similar to legislation already introduced in the state legislature, where it has a better chance of passage. After the Sandy Hook shooting, the Democratically-led Senate failed to pass even a watered-down background check bill.