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Santa Monica shootings: Were gun control laws powerless to stop suspect? (+video)

John Zawahri, the alleged attacker in the Santa Monica shootings, had a semiautomatic rifle, more than 1,000 bullets, and a history of mental troubles, law enforcement sources say.

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Newtown resulted in a flurry of laws nationwide aimed at making it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns. In fact, though the package of nine gun-control bills introduced in the US Senate this spring was ultimately revoked, the aspect that dealt with mental health was one of the two bills that passed. Even the National Rifle Association backed the bill.

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Staff writer

Mark is deputy national news editor for the Monitor.

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“This is a place where people can come together,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan told The New York Times in April, speaking of the mental-health bill. “As we’ve listened to people on all sides of the gun debate, they’ve all talked about the fact that we need to address mental-health treatment. And that’s what this does.”

New Jersey and Florida also strengthened regulations regarding gun control and the mentally ill. Last month, the California Senate passed a bill that would establish a 10-year ban on buying weapons for anyone who violated court-ordered mental-health treatment.

Even now, before that bill has passed the Assembly, California has strict guidelines in place regarding gun control and mental illness. Regulations include a prohibition against anyone owning or buying a firearm who "has been adjudicated to be a danger to others as a result of a mental disorder or mental illness."

While the details of Zawahri's case are not yet known and could take the case in a different direction, Friday's massacre clearly does not hit California unawares. In passing the recent bill, California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) said: "We all can recite the horrific acts that have occurred in our country over the last year. These bills attempt to respond to those well-publicized tragedies and many more that go unpublicized."

For mental-health professionals, the danger is in going too far and stigmatizing the mentally ill as dangerously violent, which is not true in the vast majority of cases, they say.

"There are mental illness diagnoses that do increase your risk of violence," Josh Horwitz, executive director of the gun control group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told US News & World Report. "But identifying which [diagnoses] those are and who those people are is going to be difficult."

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