By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that he signed an executive directive meant to strengthen background checks for gun buyers.
Cooper said he signed the directive to his Cabinet agencies to "build on the work we are already doing" around gun violence and safety.
"A background check is only as good as the information in the database," Cooper told hundreds of safety and education leaders at the Department of Public Safety's Back to School Safety Summit on Monday afternoon at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
"Over the last 14 months, more than 284,000 convictions have been added to the federal background check system," Cooper said. Those were added by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System working group, which Cooper convened last year to identify and fix gaps in firearm background checks. The State Bureau of Investigation was directed to lead the work.
Cooper expressed disappointment in Republican leaders not wanting to take up two House bills -- HB 86, which includes several gun regulations, and HB 454, described as a "red flag" bill.
Rep. Marcia Morey, a primary sponsor of HB 454, said last week it would allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge for what is known as an extreme risk protection order, which would restrict a person's access to firearms if there was evidence of them posing danger to themselves or others.
Last week, House Democrats filed two discharge petitions in an attempt to move those two gun regulation bills from committee to the House floor for debate. So far that has been unsuccessful, as has another discharge petition filed for HB 312, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would make hate crimes a felony and require training for law enforcement and prosecutors.
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday that gun violence is a public health problem.
The executive directive also tells:
-- SBI to give local law enforcement agencies Behavioral Threat Assessment training.
-- SBI to step up the North Carolina Information Sharing and Analysis Center's effort to raise community awareness around "domestic terrorism indicators."
-- Department of Health and Human Services to educate people about safely storing guns.
-- DHHS and the Division of Emergency Management will create guides for local governments to use after mass shootings to help them get information out and "reunite loved ones."
-- DHHS to update the state's Suicide Prevention Plan.
Cooper also said that Medicaid expansion would increase access to mental health care that some elected officials have called for in the wake of mass shootings.
"I agree we need more mental health care, but let's be careful not to stigmatize mental illness," Cooper said.
"We need to keep guns from those who would use them to harm themselves and others, and we need health care to be accessible," he said.
Cohen said in a speech at the School Safety Summit on Monday that she and fellow physicians have made it clear they must address gun violence as any other crisis, with research and action.
"I know this issue is personal to all of us, and as I think about my 5-year-old, who is starting kindergarten in just two weeks, it is very personal to me," Cohen said.
She also emphasized that mental illness should not be equated with violence. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, Cohen said.
"We can certainly do better on the access to treatment end," she said.
The fiscal year started in July, but the state government has yet to pass a budget.
Cooper vetoed the conference budget on June 28, and the Republican-led House has kept an override vote on its calendar but has yet to call for it. A supermajority would be required to override the veto, meaning all Republicans plus seven Democrats. Cooper announced a proposed budget compromise about a week after his veto, but has not received a compromise offer in response from Republican leadership.
Budget negotiations are stalled out over Medicaid expansion. Cooper wants to discuss it as part of budget negotiations, but Senate Republicans do not.
Last year's budget has rolled over into the new year and some stopgap measures have been passed by the General Assembly.
(c)2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)