Lawmakers should close bullet-buying loophole

Santa Monica gunman John Zawahri's stockpile of 1,300 bullets shows the need for legislation to restrict ammunition purchases.

From what I've been reading, the Santa Monica killer was packing an illegal assault rifle and 40 high-capacity ammunition magazines. He sprayed 100 bullets and had access to 1,300.

And, oh yes, he was a mental case.

The guy's exact background and how he obtained his war-ready arsenal weren't clear as of this writing.

But, regardless, there are at least two possible and troubling scenarios.

John Zawahri may have been an "innocent law-abiding citizen" until he wasn't — until he murdered his dad and brother, then three others randomly during a 10-minute rampage.

If so — if he had been a law-abider until he was suddenly a killer — that would be yet another example of why we need to restrict the flow of the deadliest firearms into citizens' hands.

The 23-year-old also may have been psychotic. "He experienced mental health challenges," said Santa Monica police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.

If he were crazy or a criminal, it's all the more reason why we need to require background checks before people are allowed to arm themselves.

California imposes background checks on gun purchasers, but not on bullet buyers.

Felons are prohibited from legally owning or possessing firearms. So are people convicted of a violent misdemeanor or subject to a restraining order. Ditto someone held 72 hours for mental health observation.

Zawahri tried to buy a gun in 2011 and was denied permission by the California Department of Justice, according to Seabrooks. It's not clear why.

He apparently circumvented California's ban on assault weapon purchases by acquiring parts and assembling his own. So that law needs to be tightened.

And his stockpile of 1,300 rounds of ammo is evidence that background checks are needed for bullet buyers.

Guns don't kill people. Bullets do.

"We regulate firearms," says Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. "Firearms are nothing more than bullet delivery devices. If we're going to regulate the delivery device, we should regulate the bullet that the device delivers."

Such a bill recently passed the state Senate and is pending in the Assembly.

The measure, SB 53, by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), would require a background check and license to buy ammunition. There'd be a one-time charge, probably $50. The ammo license would be permanent and attached electronically to the driver's license. The driver's license would be swiped at the gun store to verify that the customer was legal.

There are still some details to be worked out — like how to control Internet sales and allow out-of-state hunters to buy ammunition in California.

But right now, De Leon asserted during the Senate debate, "You can walk out of San Quentin Prison … walk into a Big 5, any mom and pop, bait and tackle store, in fact you can back up a U-Haul truck, and you can load up all the ammunition you want. No questions asked."

It would be an illegal purchase — felons can't legally possess ammo — but "there's no way to tell whether a person is prohibited," says Emeryville Police Chief Ken James. He is an official of the California Police Chiefs Assn., which strongly supports De Leon's bill.

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