Under the Dome

Gun bill would eliminate sheriffs' mental health background checks

County sheriffs would no longer be involved in making sure applicants for concealed handgun permits have mental health issues that could disqualify them, under a bill introduced this week in the General Assembly.

HB310 would instead rely on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which the FBI maintains. The system relies on states reporting information on those who aren’t eligible, but as many as 2 million mental health records are not in the system, according to the National Center for State Courts.

Under a 2008 law, North Carolina is required to report mental health data to the system, referred to as NICS.

Grass Roots North Carolina is behind HB310. Paul Valone, president of the gun-rights group, says if that information isn’t available from some states in the federal system then it isn’t available to county sheriffs, either.

And, Valone says, North Carolina’s sheriffs handle the mental health clearance arbitrarily and inconsistently. Current law requires applicants sign a release authorizing sheriffs to have access to their mental health records, if any.

Putting the mental health issue on the federal system rather than on county sheriffs avoids unnecessary duplication, is the thinking behind the bill. Valone calls it an update of a state law that has been in effect since before NICS, which was launched in 1998 as part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

Gail Neely of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence says doing away with the extra check might be premature. “The sheriffs are more in touch with those who may have issues that are not on the radar but may be an issue that puts them at risk for gun ownership,” she says.

She says legislators’ time would be better spent improving mental health services, and getting better records into the national system.

The bill’s primary sponsors are Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson, Rep. Kelly Hastings of Cherryville, Rep. Mark Brody of Monroe and Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville.


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Not bad, Craig


Not a bad synopsis of the bill, but I think three points need emphasis:

1. Thanks to the federal "NICS Improvement Act" of 2007, whatever information the sheriff is getting from other states now would not be reduced under HB 310.

2. Whatever information on disqualified individuals a sheriff chooses to get from local mental health facilities (sheriffs are not required to do so, and perform checks inconsistently) is already being reported to the computerized National Instant Background Check System (NICS) thanks to our 2008 law.

3. Although sheriffs are qualified to enforce laws, they are not qualified to assess mental health criteria, at present resulting in arbitrary and often unfair denials of permits.

HB 310 is simply a matter of modernizing and standardizing our concealed handgun law. As you note, the law predates the NICS by three years, and predates inclusion of mental health data in NICS by twelve years. It's time to bring our law into the 21st Century.

Paul Valone
President, Grass Roots North Carolina

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