Sheriff: Mental health check now required to get gun permit Permission to buy firearm will no longer rest on honor system

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office says it will start requiring mental health background checks for anyone applying to buy a handgun.
The application already asks whether the person seeking the handgun permit has ever been committed to a mental institution. But until now, the Sheriff’s Office had never verified the answer.
Beginning Monday, handgun permit applicants will have to give permission for the Rowan County Clerk of Superior Court to release mental health records to the Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s been an honor system, and we are just going to do a little more checking,” Sheriff Kevin Auten said.
The inquiry includes a check into psychiatric information, physical health or substance abuse treatment. The release is for the sole purpose of determining whether the applicant is disqualified for a permit, Auten said.
State and federal laws prohibit the agency from approving a permit in some cases, Auten said.
The release acknowledges this information is protected by federal regulations and state statutes, but asks for the consent of the applicant.
Auten said with all the discussions of gun control and safety issues, the agency reviewed its own policy.
“We felt it was good to improve the process and make it a little more thorough,” he said.
If the applicant refuses to sign the release, he or she will be automatically denied a permit.
Auten said the agency wants those qualified to be able to purchase guns legally.
This new process isn’t without its flaws, Auten admits. The release does not address a person who has relocated from another state.
“That’s part of the loophole. This is a stepping stone in that process,” he said.
This extra step is likely to lengthen the permit process by a day or so, said Capt. John Sifford.
Other nearby agencies contacted have similar requirements for applicants.
The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office includes a mental health check with its local clerk of court office as part of its application process. Officials at the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office say a criminal background check and a mental health check is also done as part of its process.
Iredell County officials did not immediately return a phone call, but do have an online form. The form asks applicants to answer whether they’ve been committed or have been judged “mentally defective.” The department also has a supplement to its form that addresses citizenship status.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.