Rep. Adam Schiff on Isla Vista tragedy and gun violence

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May 23, 2014

By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

Yesterday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) spoke CNN about the latest mass shooting in Santa Barbara, calling on Congress to move on gun reform.

Rep. Schiff stated that the shooting in Santa Barbara “is just a horrendous incident that took place — your heart goes out to everyone affected… What does it take, thought, to get the Congress and government moving?

Guns and mental illness make a combustible and unpredictable combination. Photo courtesy  Treatment4addiction.com

Guns and mental illness make a combustible and unpredictable combination. Photo courtesy Treatment4addiction.com

He continued, saying, “You would think after something as serious as Newtown, we would not need anything to get motivated.  We are taking steps to deal with the mental health issues, but obviously we’ve made little progress, and it shows in these tragedies.

“You have the impression that the fabric of the country is being torn a bit each time there’s a tragedy like this, and we have a responsibility to try to mend that and reduce access by people who are very sick.”

In the aftermath of West Hollywood’s Gun Town Hall last year when Newton and gun reform was still a hot issue, we interviewed the meeting’s host, Representative Adam Schiff to capture his reactions to the gathering.

(See the video of the Town Hall below)
Rep. Adam Schiff with WeHo council member Jeff Prang.

Rep. Adam Schiff with WeHo council member Jeff Prang.

RG: It was a fascinating thing to watch and listen to and you had some incredible personalities there on the dais with you. What did you come away from afterwards? What thoughts did you have in reaction to what you heard that evening?

AS: Well I thought the panelists made a pretty powerful case that we should take these reasonable, common-sense solutions to our gun violence problem. They’re not going to be a cure all, but making sure that we improve the background system so that it applies universally and not simply to those that buy from a licensed dealer will keep guns out of the hands of many felons and many seriously mentally ill.

I think they were very persuasive on the fact that we don’t need assault weapons and expanded clips. I think the Sheriff was very powerful on that point. And I think you know both Jack Scott and Lauren brought a very personal perspective, having one, lost a loved one through that terrible gun accident and the other having been shot twice by a white supremacists who carried an assault weapon into a Jewish community center. And I also thought that Dr. Pandy raised very important points about the mental health care system and the irony that it’s much easier to get a gun than it is to get mental health care.

RG: Right, and that he made the point that it’s far easier to hospitalize someone if they are a danger to themself than it is to unearth someone with mental health disabilities or impacts that might hurt other people with acts of guns.

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AS: Yeah. Very true. You know, as powerful as the other day—I guess yesterday—was, Senator Reid brought up his father in the context of talking about waiting periods. I wasn’t aware that his father had taken his own life with a gun. But it illustrates how prevalent gun violence is and how much it touches all of our lives.

RG: And it does so in so many different ways that it’s uh, no single bill is going to be able to really make much of a notch into it, as was mentioned last night, at the town hall. The fellow that took so many lives at Sandy Hook didn’t own any of those guns. He may have had mental illness but nobody really knows what it was and he accessed his family guns that were under lock and key.

AS:  Right. You know, which highlights that, to point, no one size is going to fit all, and the NRA’s reaction to the deal that’s been announced in the Senate between the two senators that was condemning it and saying that universal background checks would not have stopped Sandy Hook, but that’s not our argument against universal background checks.

It is an argument in favor of a comprehensible approach that combines universal background checks with a ban on assault weapons with a ban on high capacity clips which would have been of great value had they been enforced and the shooter there not had access to those weapons and clips, as well as broader accessibility to mental health treatment.

nraI mean, it also argues I think in favor of making sure there’s a responsibility in the home when you have guns in the home if you have a seriously mentally ill child who could use those guns to hurt themselves or hurt others, that means you got to take important steps to protect your family, and your loved ones but to protect the community as well.

RG: The pushback from the NRA is that they don’t want this to extend to private sellers and you’re saying that since their compromise does not extend to private sellers that you’d like it to include that?

AS: I think the universal background questions is going to be only as effective as the degree to which it can be enforced. If you have broad loopholes that is going to inhibit its effectiveness.

Right now about 40 percent of gun sales take place outside of the background check system. The compromise that was announced in the Senate is an improvement and might bring it down to 20 percent, to 10 percent, but that still is too many people who are going to have access to guns without undergoing a background check. And someone that can’t get a gun from a licensed dealer because they are a felon may be prohibited under that compromise from getting one at a gun show but they’re still going to be able to get it from the guy selling them out of the back of his truck as long as the guy doesn’t advertise. So I think we can do better than that.

RG: What about micro stamping and those kind of things. California has moved so quickly and so far on Mike Feuer’s proposal and is certainly….

AS: You know, I haven’t seen Mike’s proposal but one of the things that I’ve been interested in learning more about is the potential for microstamping ammunition, for example, so that it can be traced back when it’s used in a crime. There shouldn’t be any NRA objection to having ammunition that’s identifiable. That doesn’t preclude you from any act of self-defense.

Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat serving West Hollywood, has been at the forefront of the fight to get a handle on the abuses of privacy committed by the National Security Administration and applauded "the President’s decision to end bulk collection of domestic telephone records."

Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat serving West Hollywood, has been at the forefront of the fight to get a handle on the abuses of privacy committed by the National Security Administration and applauded “the President’s decision to end bulk collection of domestic telephone records.”

If the bullets you use to defend yourself have a serial number on it why would that pose any 2nd amendment concerns? It could be of great value to those trying to solve crime, like our law enforcement.

RG: Sure. You know, that’s another way to nibble around the edges, because it doesn’t look like the NRA or the Republican safe-seat house members are going to give up any room at all on the assault weapons ban. It would be nice to go back to the 90s when it was still enforced but I don’t’ see that happening. Do you?

AS: Well you know, I know it’s up hill, but I still want to see it happen. I hope we can get a vote on it in both the House and the Senate. I just don’t see any reasons why civilians need assault weapons. I don’t want our police gunned down on the street, I don’t want our kids gunned down at school.

People don’t’ use them to hunt, they’re not good weapons for self-protection – there are much more effective weapons for self-protection. And they are very efficient killing machines, particularly with an extended clip, and I think we saw in the close recent tragic knife attack, that as tragic as that is, it’s far less lethal, and we have someone armed with an assault weapon or with an extended clip and the mayhem that they can create.

RG: Right. What in your take away from the Town Hall, what surprised you?

AS: Well, you know, I think that and I don’t know that this surprised, but the issues that involved in making sure that the mental health piece of the data base, that those requirements are met is far more complicated than I think most people imagine. Because obviously we don’t want to stigmatize people getting treatment for mental illness.

At the same time people who are seriously mentally ill, who would be a danger to themselves or others shouldn’t have access to firearms, but there are ambiguous and conflicting state and federal laws and regulations about what the records should be included in the system, and one other item which was surprising to me, we only touched on this at the forum and that is that while we are very focused on the fact that many of the states have not been very good at providing mental health records to the data base, they are also under federal law required to provide substance abuse records, and that provision is almost entirely been ignored in many jurisdictions and that is also a very difficult [inaudible] problem, with a lot of implications in terms of privacy, treatment and public safety. So those are some of the broader issues that came up at the forum and I think need very serious attention.

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RG: Great. Any other thoughts?

AS: No, I appreciate the fact that notwithstanding it being a very emotional topic that the public input was very thoughtful on all sides of the issue. We had NRA supporters there we had strong gun safety legislation’s supporters there, and I think the crowd was very articulate and thoughtful in its feedback.

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