Recent mass shootings renew gun control debates

BAY AREA, Calif. (KTVU) - Mass shootings in Charleston and Chattanooga, and now Lafayette, Louisiana, are renewing debate about keeping guns out of the hands of the disturbed and dangerous. 

"We believe that John Houser was being seen in 2008 and 2009 for mental illness here," Sheriff Heath Taylor told reporters in Russell County Alabama, describing the troubled past of the gunman who opened fire, killing two women and wounding nine other people in a movie theatre Thursday night. 

The Sheriff says the records are sealed, but seven year old court records reveal Houser's wife at the time was so frightened by his "volatile mental state", she removed all guns from the house, and got a protective order, accusing him of "acts of family violence."

He was ordered into a psychiatric facility, and later released, but the erratic behavior continued.

"The cuts that are being made, as far as mental health around the state, allows a lot of these people that should not be walking around to be out in the community," complained Sheriff Taylor.  

Taylor could not explain why Houser was able to pass a background check to buy a 40 caliber pistol at a pawn shop in February 2014.  

"We need to pass background checks at the national level," retired Bay Area teacher Toni Shellen told KTVU,” because gun laws do have an affect. "

Shellen points to California's gun death rate, as tabulated by the Centers for Disease Control. At 8.9 deaths per 100,000 people over the past decade, it is below the national rate of 10.2 percent, and well below the neighboring state of Nevada, at 15.9 percent.

Shellen notes, California gun laws are the strictest in the nation, putting gun buyers through more scrutiny than simply the FBI database, which many states use at a minimum.

California also screens sales at gun shows, and between private parties, which many states do not.

Shellen began work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, after the massacre in Sandy Hook, which left 20 children and seven adults dead. The gunman, a 20-year-old man, used a rifle owned by his mother.

"Can we stop every incident? No," declared Shellen, "but the gun laws do have an effect. The idea that we can't do anything is just to continue with this insanity."

California, responding to a massacre in Santa Barbara, killing six students, will soon allow families to seek temporary restraining orders to remove guns from someone who is potentially violent.

The disturbed young man who carried out that rampage in the UCSB community made online threats that alarmed his family, but law enforcement had little power to intervene. 

The new "Gun Violence Restraining Order" is a way for those closest to an unstable person, to prevent possible bloodshed.

Still, sometimes there are no warnings. A vengeful student who executed seven former classmates at Oakland's Oikos University was a loner who purchased his pistol legally and is still mentally unfit for trial.

California's rigorous checks deny about a dozen applicants a day, about 1 percent of those who apply for gun ownership.

"When the gun lobby says guns don't kill people, people kill people, well background checks are going to be checking ‘the people,’” noted Shellen, advocating for expanded screening nationwide.

Fifty-nine-year-old Houser had been living at a Motel 6 for the past month, where investigators found wigs and eyeglasses they believe were intended as disguises.

Police are also digging into his online rants, in which he praises Adolf Hitler and calls the U.S. a "financially failing filth farm."  

His criminal history dates back to a 2005 domestic violence complaint, and includes harassment, theft, vandalism and arson.