UC-Santa Barbara students mourn the loss of those killed in Isla Vista.
UC-Santa Barbara students mourn those killed in last week’s Isla Vista massacre.

California lawmakers have responded to last week’s Isla Vista massacre by—wait for it—proposing more redundant citizen control laws:

The new firearms bill would create a “gun violence restraining order,” using the same process employed for restraining orders in cases of domestic violence.

If notified by a subject’s family or friends that someone could harm himself or others, law enforcement officers would be able to petition a judge to grant a restraining order that could prohibit possession or purchase of a gun.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said last weekend’s Isla Vista rampage illustrated gaps in the state’s gun and mental health laws. The family of Elliot Rodger, the shooter, had raised concerns with law enforcement about his mental state, and Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies visited Rodger at his apartment in April but took no action against him.

“Here we had a situation where a mother was aware that her son was a danger to himself and others. She tried to intervene,” Skinner said.

California already has an involuntary psychiatric detention known as a “5150,” which works like this:

When a person, as a result of a mental health disorder,
is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled,
a peace officer, professional person in charge of a facility
designated by the county for evaluation and treatment, member of the
attending staff, as defined by regulation, of a facility designated
by the county for evaluation and treatment, designated members of a
mobile crisis team, or professional person designated by the county
may, upon probable cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into
custody for a period of up to 72 hours for assessment, evaluation,
and crisis intervention, or placement for evaluation and treatment in
a facility designated by the county for evaluation and treatment and
approved by the State Department of Health Care Services.

The obvious problems with Assemblywoman Skinner’s feel-good-because-I’m-doing-something proposal is that it is intentionally designed to let completely unqualified “family or friends”—you know, spiteful co-workers, ex-friends, bitter exs, vicious siblings, controlling parents, nosy neighbors, imaginative children, etc—harass people and jam the legal system with demands for gun violence restraining orders without any actual evidence of a threat at all.

The 5150 process already allows qualified officers (including trained police officers) or clinicians to bring in a subject for a 72 hour involuntary hold. Skinner’s proposal will flood an over-worked judicial system with false positives, making it less likely that real threats to the public will be properly identified for treatment. The proposal seems to be a recipe to create far more problems that it could possibly hope to solve.

The biggest problem in California and other nanny states seems to be the deeply misguided belief that “just one more law” will be able to fix all of society’s ills. The reality, of course, is the opposite: when everything is illegal, everyone becomes an offender in a deeply flawed system, and lives are destroyed as a result. The crushing weight of too many laws and regulations ends up creating a world in which people and society both break more often, with tragic results.

Rest assured that Skinner’s legislation is to be merely the first of many knee-jerk reactionary bills that will jam the California legislature, and that none will do anything other than compound the problem.