Crime & Justice

Mental health care would curb gun violence, some at congressional hearing say

In this file photo, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, announces a bill designed to allow police to remove guns from the hands of the mentally ill and reduce gun violence while respecting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, Friday, May 30, 2014, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, Thompson hosted a hearing in Sacramento aimed at finding ways to reduce gun violence.
In this file photo, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, announces a bill designed to allow police to remove guns from the hands of the mentally ill and reduce gun violence while respecting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, Friday, May 30, 2014, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, Thompson hosted a hearing in Sacramento aimed at finding ways to reduce gun violence.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A gun club owner and a gun dealer are among those telling a congressman Monday that closing loopholes in federal background checks and increasing mental health help would reduce gun violence.

California U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, chairman of House Democrats' Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, held the hearing less than two weeks after 14 people were fatally shot in San Bernardino.

Gun rights proponents accused Thompson of politicizing the issue. He conducted the hearing at the state Capitol in Sacramento on the third anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, and he opened by criticizing Congress' inaction since then.

But Thompson said he is a gun owner trying to find middle ground as he co-authors a House bill requiring nationwide background checks at gun shows and for those who buy guns from individuals online. His office said the panel discussion was scheduled before the San Bernardino shootings by a couple who authorities say were inspired by a foreign terror organization.

Thompson opposed one suggestion from gun control advocates: background checks for buying ammunition, as would be required under a 2016 ballot initiative proposed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2018, also wants to ban the possession, not just the sale, of large-capacity ammunition magazines and require police reports when guns are lost or stolen.

Thompson said in an interview that he is concerned about the cost of requiring ammunition buyers to buy a license every two years. He also opposes a ban on sales to those under age 18 and said the checks could make it difficult for gun owners who live in other states to buy ammunition during visits to California.

"Doesn't the California Congressman want to know if a visitor from another state buying deadly ammo is a violent felon?" Dan Newman, a spokesman for the ballot measure campaign, responded in an email. "Right now there is absolutely no oversight on the sale of ammunition."

On background checks for buying guns, Thompson had support from Joe Deaser, owner of Capital Gun Club in Roseville, and Chris Kitaeff, a gun show dealer from Arizona and board member of Arizonans for Gun Safety.

"This really isn't about gun control. It's about keeping bad people from doing dumb things," Deaser said.

But Craig DeLux, an advocate with the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, said even California's strict gun control laws aren't enough to stop criminals, terrorists, or others willing to break the law.

This story has been updated.