Local News

Task Force Suggests Gun Permit Changes for Mentally Ill

Posted January 9, 2008 6:26 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2008 12:45 p.m. EST

— A state law to make counties share what is now confidential information about mental-health commitments is one of nearly a dozen measures that a task force on college-campus safety has recommended.

Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that measure Thursday along with the task force's 10 other major recommendations to help prevent campus violence and prepare for, respond to and recover from it if it happens on one of the state's 110 college campuses.

“No one wants to think about something so horrible ever happening here in North Carolina, but it’s our job to be ready in case the unthinkable occurs,” Cooper said Thursday. “These recommendations can help our colleges and universities get ready, reduce violence and prevent loss of life.”

Cooper assembled the 21-member Task Force on Campus Safety last year in response to the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre in which Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty and wounded 25 others in the deadliest school-shooting rampage in American history.

"We can take steps to prevent these attacks, and we can be ready for them in case they do occur," Cooper told WRAL Wednesday.

Cooper hopes sharing mental-health information about involuntary committments is something lawmakers will be willing to consider.

"If that had happened during this process at Virginia Tech, then potentially, those shootings could have been prevented," he said.

Cho passed a background check and bought one gun from a store and a second online despite having been deemed mentally defective by a Virginia court.

"People with severe and mental illnesses really don't need to be buying guns," Cooper said.

Currently, in North Carolina, someone who wants a gun permit undergoes a criminal background check, but it does not include mental health information unless the applicant waives his or her rights.

Last year, there were nearly 5,200 involuntary commitment petitions filed in Wake County.

"It's something that if the Legislature sees fit to put this process in place, we will be happy to comply with (it)," Wake County Clerk of Superior Court Lorrin Freeman said. "It's important to the public safety of our community. It's something that we will be willing to work with."

Most of the other initiatives suggested by the task force involve improving the flow of emergency communication throughout campus and to local law enforcement in the event of an emergency.

It recommends state lawmakers create a campus safety center to help colleges across the state implement safety programs. And it advises campuses to regularly reviewed and update the programs and train and educate the campus community about those plans.

Several campuses in the University of North Carolina system already have  started implementing emergency-notification systems in the wake of the Virginia Tech rampage. North Carolina State and UNC-Chapel Hill are working on alert systems that utilize text messaging, e-mail and siren warnings.