Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times
Local officials are calling for better systems to identify and treat mental health problems and for stronger gun-control lobbyists and legislation in the wake of last week’s rampage that left five dead.
Police on Thursday said that John Zawahri, 23, “lived a troubled life and that he experienced mental health challenges. Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said “his mental health challenges likely played a role in his decisions to shoot and kill.”
Zawahri’s trail of bloodshed June 7 occurred in Santa Monica as he made his way from his father’s home on Yorkshire Avenue and along busy Pico Boulevard before storming onto the Santa Monica College campus, where he was fatally wounded by officers in the library.
Police also confirmed that Zawahri used a AR-15-style rifle to carry out his attack. They said the rifle consisted of a partially manufactured lower receiver that did not have a serial number and therefore did not have to be registered. Police said the parts needed to assemble a working rifle, including magazines of ammunition, were shipped in from out of state.
Federal law allows people to purchase a receiver that is 80% or less complete and manufacture it into a firearm for personal use. No California state law requires such a gun, once completed, to be registered.
But California does outlaw the commerce of AR-15 weapons that have certain features, including a detachable magazine. Other features include folding telescopic or detachable stocks or a threaded barrel.
Purchase, sale and transfer of high-capacity magazines is illegal, but currently possession of the items is not.
“In this particular case, the weapon that he ended up with ultimately is one that, by definition, would be illegal to possess here in the state of California,” Seabrooks said Thursday.
Friday, State Assemblyman Richard Bloom called Zawahri’s suspected method of building a gun “one of those loopholes … crying out to be closed.”
But, “we’re also sort of fighting technology,” he said. “The ability to purchase things with the ease of the Internet facilitates an outcome like this. It’s a multi-level problem.”
Bloom cited a number of gun-control bills working their way through the state legislature that he hoped would be signed into law. One proposal would ban the possession of high-capacity magazines. Another would outlaw future sale, manufacture, transfer and possession of semiautomatic rifles that accept detachable magazines.
Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board, who also founded an embattled youth-violence prevention center in Santa Monica, called for a strong gun-control coalition that can challenge the NRA’s political clout.
“It’s an interesting debate because it’s those who want to save lives, versus those who argue they want to protect lives,” De la Torre said. “We all want increased public safety, but we disagree about whether guns help [or] hinder that cause.”
On Wednesday, The Times reported that Zawahri’s rifle appeared to have been put together from various parts, possibly in an attempt to circumvent the state’s restrictions on such guns. Then at a press conference Thursday, Seabrooks said Zawahri attempted to buy a weapon in 2011, but for reasons that are unclear, the state’s Department of Justice deemed him ineligible.
Despite the denial, police say, Zawahri proceeded to buy gun components from various sources across the country and assemble his own semiautomatic rifle.
“Obviously the young man had some intelligence and creativity, and it’s so sad that the mental challenges weren’t overcome to help him channel that in a positive way,” Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor said. “What can we do when we as a society identify folks who need help? What are the services out there to channel the energy someone has?”
Sgt. Richard Lewis told reporters Thursday that Zawahri had “an affinity for weapons.” Police found at least four replica air-soft-like guns in Zawahri’s home, as well as knives. They also found zip guns capable of firing live ammunition. The police chief said the revolver Zawahri was also carrying during the attack had been converted.
“He had gun magazines, different shooting magazines, all different resources,” Lewis said.
De la Torre, though, said he was struck by revelations that the gunman had remorse for killing his father and brother.
“That’s an indication that there was at least an opening for this young man to get help to turn that window of remorse into healing,” he said. “In terms of prevention, we need better protocols around mental health assessment and how our systems can intervene. It’s not enough to just give a referral to a parent.”