After the mass shooting last month that left seven dead in Isla Vista, Calif., the area's congresswoman, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), went back to her district. She met with community members, parents of the victims, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals to try to figure out what Congress could do to prevent gun violence.
The main takeaway from her meetings there, she said, is that everyone is sick and tired of members of Congress having "moments of silence" and uttering "nice-sounding words of sadness" after a shooting, but then doing nothing to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill or potentially dangerous people.
"I heard two things loud and clear," Capps said Thursday at a press conference. "I heard frustration, and I heard a demand for action. We have held moments of silence, we introduced resolutions on the House floor, we've taken some important steps to remember the victims of these senseless tragedies and to condemn this violence, but that is not enough. It's time to act."
To that end, Capps has introduced or co-sponsored three new bills that she believes will help to prevent gun violence. The Pause for Safety Act would allow families to seek a gun violence prevention order if someone close to them has access to guns and poses a threat to himself or herself or others. The parents of Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter, were on their way to find him and stop him from doing something dangerous when they heard about the shootings.
"There were clear warning signs before the Isla Vista rampage," Capps said. "We need to make sure our families and law enforcement have the tools to intervene before a crisis starts."
The Promoting Healthy Minds for Safer Communities Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Capps, would strengthen mental health intervention efforts and improve and expand the reporting of mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Capps' third gun bill addresses a lower-profile, but equally tragic, kind of gun violence: the murder of women by their stalkers or intimate partners. The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would close loopholes in federal gun restrictions that prevent domestic abusers from purchasing and owning guns. Current law prevents people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse or issued permanent restraining orders for domestic abuse from owning guns. Capps' bill would extend the restrictions to include convicted stalkers, non-married dating partners and people with temporary emergency restraining orders issued against them for domestic violence.
"Our laws must recognize that an abusive dating partner with a gun is just as deadly as an abusive spouse with a gun," Capps said. "Our laws must recognize that an abuser under an emergency temporary restraining order is just as, if not more, dangerous than one under a permanent restraining order. This will protect victims when they are most in danger."
A Center for American Progress report released Wednesday found that federal gun laws have many gaps and loopholes that allow tens of thousands of domestic abusers and stalkers to legally purchase firearms or slip through the cracks of the background check system.
Capps said that while none of her bills have Republican co-sponsors, House Democrats have "more momentum than we've ever had" on gun violence prevention legislation. Even if GOP leadership won't allow a vote on her bills, she said, she thinks the gun debate will at least become a big issue in November.
"For House members, we're up for election in the fall, so this should rise to a higher level of discussion and debate during elections," she said. "Perhaps it always is there, but it's never commanded the attention that some other topics have, and maybe this is the time."
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