NC lawmakers examining school safety measures

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A year after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, state lawmakers in North Carolina are considering several bills aimed at improving safety in schools.

“We honestly believe the biggest impact we can have positively is working on the mental health aspect,” said Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) who led a special committee formed after the shooting in Florida.

One bill would direct the state Department of Health and Human Services to study how to develop a mental health screening process for students in public schools.

Another bill considered Tuesday would direct schools to take a variety of steps including establishing risk management plans, conducting more safety drills and training on how to identify threats.

Torbett said many school systems already have taken some or all of those steps, but as his committee studied the issue they found it challenging to get data on what’s happening statewide.

“We don’t know how many SROs per school. We don’t know who’s paying for them. So, we want to have some type of commonality so every school system is afforded that same opportunity to have that safety,” he said.

Some Democrats criticized Republican legislative leaders for what they’ve left out of these bills.

“The problem is they didn’t address the issue of guns,” said Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham).

Morey introduced a bill last year that would grant judges the authority to temporarily remove guns from a person if they’ve shown “threatening, erratic or dangerous behavior.” 

She plans to file a similar bill this year.

“I don’t think it’s an absolute right to own a gun, that there have to be restrictions. You want them in the hands of people that are rational, that are qualified, that have background checks,” said Morey. 

Establishing what’s known as an “extreme risk protection order” was also a recommendation of a separate committee formed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) that also spent much of the last year studying school shootings. 

That committee was co-chaired by former Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison and Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger. 

“You could put a million more laws out there, but you’re still not going to keep the guns out of the hands of someone who wants to do harm to other people. So, we’re gonna focus on what we believe is driving people to that, and that’s the mental and behavioral health,” said Torbett.

Torbett said he anticipates the legislature passing a variety of bills related to school safety by the summer.

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