1 in 6 North Carolina counties have more gun dealers than mental health providers

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- While the country recovers from two mass shootings in 10 days, the national conversation is turning to two topics: gun access and mental health.

In a news conference Wednesday, Texas governor Greg Abbott placed the blame for the shooting at an elementary school in his state on mental health issues.

"We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health," the Republican governor said Wednesday in a news conference, according to ABC News. "Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge. Period. We as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and to do something about it."

However, those who advocate against gun violence, like Rev. Jennifer Copeland of the North Carolina Council of Churches, said blaming mental health is an easy way out.

"I think they're both very important issues, but to blame all gun deaths on a mental health problem is to miss the point," Copeland said. "The reason we have so many gun deaths in this country is because we have so many guns out here."

While Copeland thinks mental health and gun sales are separate issues, the two have often been conflated, particularly after mass shootings.

An ABC News data analysis found that nationwide, more than 1,500 counties have more gun dealers than mental health providers.

In North Carolina, one in six counties has more places to buy a gun than to see a mental health professional.

Currituck County has more than 4 times as many gun dealers (17) as mental health providers (4). Four other counties--Jones, Camden, Pamlico, and Caswell--have at least twice as many gun dealers as mental health providers. Gates and Graham counties both have no mental health providers, but two and four places to buy guns respectively.



Copeland said she doesn't find this statistic surprising. She and her organization advocate for stricter background checks, more gun safety measures, and more training for people who do have guns.

"We need better laws so then the gun dealers can do the background checks, can ensure that people who buy guns are going to use them properly and safely, we can also follow up with some gun safety training for those who own guns, we can teach people how to use gun locks," she said. "There are just a plethora of things that we can do to keep ourselves safe, to keep our neighbors safe."

Becky Ceartas, the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, takes a similar approach. She added that adequate mental health in schools could make a huge difference in keeping people safe.

"We definitely need to be investing in people and people's well being, and especially when we're looking at schools, to make sure there's enough support staff like psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, nurses," Ceartas said.

She emphasized that 80% of school shooters under the age of 18 get an unlocked, unsecured gun from their household-showing the importance of using gun locks and safes.

Copeland took her point a step further, asking why 18-year-olds should be allowed to buy high-caliber weapons like assault rifles at all.

"We don't let 18 year olds smoke, we don't let them drink," she said. "Why would we let them have an assault rifle? But it's legal to have an assault rifle. Let's raise the age 21, but let's also think about who really needs an assault rifle to kill squirrels in the backyard."

Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old gunman in the Uvalde,Texas, shooting, legally bought two AR-15 assault rifles six days after his 18th birthday, two days before he fatally shot 19 children and two teachers.

Both Ceartas and Copeland made it clear they were not against the Constitution's Second Amendment, nor were they opposed to certified gun dealers selling weapons legally.

However, both said more could be done to make sure those who purchase guns are of sound mind and understand the responsibility.

Ceartas and North Carolinians Against Gun Violence advocate for keeping North Carolina's pistol purchase permitting system.

"This is important because it closes the federal gun show loophole, which does allow people to buy a gun, you know, even if they're prohibited people like a domestic violence abuser or convicted felon, somebody experiencing a mental health crisis, you can go to a gun show or online and buy a gun, no questions asked," Ceartas explained. "But here in North Carolina, we've closed this dangerous loophole on handguns with our pistol purchase permitting system."

The organization is also pushing for more funding for gun safety measures like free locks and safe storage education.
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