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Godbee favors mental health experts making the call on some individuals owning guns, but he urged cautious application of red flag laws.
“Mental health is part of the background check,” said Godbee, a former police officer and mental health worker. “The new mental health reporting by local police bothers me. Allowing an officer to decide is a mistake; it’s a bridge too far. You’ve just turned an officer into something that a judge ought to decide. We have some overzealous people in law enforcement.
“An officer goes to a domestic disturbance and says one of the individuals needs counseling. That could prevent that individual from getting a gun. They are denying rights to that person. We need to let a professional decide their overall mental health, not law enforcement.”
Godbee doubts red flag laws significantly reduce suicide rates.
“Saying red flag states have a lower suicide rate is simply misleading,” he said. “If they want to kill themselves, they don’t need a gun. They can be in a car wreck, house fire, overdose on drugs.”
Randy Campbell, owner of AAA Pawn in Decatur, which sells firearms, is worried mental health issues don’t always show up on the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
“My concern is the mental health issue,” he said. “Do all local mental health authorities report to NICS? If the individual is on schizophrenia meds and I know it, I won’t sell him a gun. I don’t have to give a reason, either.”
Melvlyn Crowden, manager at Bama Pawn and Guns in Decatur, said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been diligent in keeping guns in the right hands.
“I went to a training session a couple of years ago hosted by the ATF,” she said. “I can say the ATF has stepped up their game. They now have the purchasers’ mental health records.”
She said public misperceptions are driving some gun control efforts.
“There’s a large influx of people who think buying a gun is easier than it is,” she said. “There’s a lot of fake news out there about getting a gun. I don’t know how they can tighten the background checks. But whatever they do will be bad for the gun business. We’re getting a bum rap. … There are plenty of laws in place. For licensed dealers, there is no way to circumvent the system.”