Rodger had been under the care of multiple mental health professionals for years, according to his parents. He was known to his family and these professionals to have serious mental problems. His parents warned law enforcement about the strange, threatening videos Rodger made in the weeks before he went on a rampage. Rodger was even visited by sheriff’s deputies in the week before he attacked and killed six people, and then himself in the fight with police.
Elliot Rodger, 22, legally purchased the guns he used to kill three of the victims in his attack. (He killed the other three with a knife.) The APPS program was intended to cross-check exactly such circumstances: legally purchased, registered guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t or probably shouldn’t have them, due to either prior felony convictions or a record of mental health problems. (The “probably” qualifier is problematic in the matter of a constitutional right, but that argument is a whole separate post – relating largely to what process should be used to make the determination, and how the citizen’s rights are to be upheld in the process.)
But APPS didn’t work. That’s the bottom line: it didn’t work. The system had everything it needed to make APPS work. Law enforcement had the information that Elliot Rodger was unstable and had made very creepy, alarming threats. Law enforcement also had the information that he had recently purchased guns.
It doesn’t matter that the connection wasn’t handed to the police or sheriff’s department on a silver platter. Law enforcement had the information. The people involved directly in the case didn’t put it together. In spite of the institutional emphasis on APPS in California’s law enforcement organizations, they never checked the gun registration database:
Emeryville, CA, Police Chief Ken James said, “I cringed when I learned they didn’t run [the database] for guns.”
It doesn’t matter that a judge hadn’t ruled Rodger incompetent, or ineligible to own firearms. If it did matter, other California citizens against whom there has been no such ruling would not have had their guns seized in APPS raids over the last two 18 months. No such ruling is required for raids and confiscations, according to the new pattern of APPS enforcement. So the absence of such a ruling is not an excuse in Rodger’s case.
The point here is not to pin negligence on the sheriff. Using professional judgment is as much a part of law enforcement as of any other profession. The point is to establish that California’s APPS program, which has spawned armed raids against peaceful, law-abiding citizens through a mechanistic, database driven process, did not and cannot stop an Elliot Rodger.