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December 26, 2012

‘Gun control needs to be closely scrutinized’

TARBORO — The shootings of 20 first-grade students in a Newtown, Conn. school Friday has sparked a debate about gun control and mental health. The gun used in Friday’s school shooting was a military-style assault rifle, and the shooter, Adam Lanza, allegedly had mental health problems.

President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that he is launching a gun violence task force, and he has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to head up the task force.

“Gun control needs to be closely scrutinized,” said Milton Bullock, Princeville native, entertainer, and founder of the children’s organization “Do It For The Kids.”

Bullock. “There should be no loopholes where people can say, ‘It doesn’t apply to me.’”

As a gun owner, Bullock said he supports Americans’ right to bear arms, but he believes measures should be put in place to ensure that the owners of those weapons are mentally stable.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama would support proposals to close the “gun show loophole,” which allows people to purchase firearms without background checks, according to a “USA Today” article published Tuesday.

Stacey Flora, manager of Carolina Pawn & Gun in Tarboro, said he has seen a marked increase in the number of people coming into the pawn shop to buy firearms since Friday’s shooting.

“There’s been a lot of heavy traffic in here,” Flora said. “They’re just pretty much panicked right now, thinking they can’t get something later on. People are pretty much afraid of them [the government] banning stuff.”

The pawn shop sells “long guns, handguns, ammunition, the whole line of stuff,” according to Flora.

“In my opinion, regulating firearms is just a quick fix,” said Lt. Bill Braswell of the Tarboro Police Department. “The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms … I still stand by that.”

Braswell does not see a quick or easy solution to preventing tragedies such as last week’s school shooting. To him, it is a problem that will “take time” to solve and “might take years,” because it will require a change in American culture.

“It takes a village to raise a child. It starts from parenting to schooling and on in life,” Braswell said. “The mentality of people nowadays, I think they just feel like they can get away with anything…The respect for law enforcement and people of authority – that’s not there anymore.”

Braswell added that he would like to see an armed officer at every school to heighten security, but that would take a lot of resources.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper released a statement after the tragedy, stressing schools’ preparedness for crisis situations.

“We hope that North Carolina never faces a tragedy like this, but we owe it to students, parents and teachers to be ready. North Carolina schools have been provided with strategies and training to help them prepare for a school shooting, and all schools need to review those plans to make sure they’re ready,” stated Cooper.

“It’s truly a tragedy that happened,” said Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight. “We need to sit down and look at all aspects, and mental health is one of the things we need to look at, and then come up with something that’s concrete that would help prevent a tragedy like that from happening again.”

John Williams, a mental healthcare provider for Better Connections in Tarboro, said it was clear that there were some “mental health issues going on” with Lanza, and that he might not have been receiving the mental health services he needed.

“I see people who are released from services or their services are reduced all the time [who could benefit from continued services],” Williams said. “We might continue to see more and more issues like this.”

Accessing mental health services is “challenging” in an environment of budget cuts and stringent documentation requirements, according to the healthcare professional.

“If they’re going to have a hard time getting them [services] approved, they’re going to walk out the door and just say, ‘forget it,’” said Williams. He believes a public awareness campaign regarding access to mental healthcare would be beneficial.

Bullock proposed the “revamping and reforming” of the nation’s mental health system as a solution to preventing another tragedy like the one in Connecticut.

“They say that one out of five is mentally ill. I say it’s two to three out of five, because of the pressures, the stress, the economy. We’re compounded with so many things that contributes to us being mentally ill,” he said.

Bullock shared his thoughts on mental health as it relates to gun ownership. He applied for a concealed weapon permit a few months ago and was sent to the health department after completing the other requirements for the permit application, where he simply paid a fee to complete his application.

Bullock recalled the Columbine school shooting of 1999 and the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007, both involving the “handling of guns by deranged people,” but said the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting still “sort of shocked” him.

“These were so many little innocent babies,” said the children’s advocate. As tragic as the incident was, Bullock said that perhaps it took something shocking to “shake us up” enough to make changes to gun control legislation and the mental health system.

“It’s sad that it had to come to this, but as an advocate for children’s welfare since the 1970’s, I have noticed that we were on this path, like a runaway train headed into the station, and the train has derailed. Now we have to figure out how we have to put it back on track.”

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