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Following deadly school shooting, Gov. Cooper's task force addresses gun violence again

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NPR, via Getty
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Gun-related offenses in North Carolina are up among older children, but have held steady with younger kids. Safer Schools Task Force leaders say it may be because of unattended firearms.

Juvenile firearm offenses have been on the rise among older children in North Carolina.

In a presentation to Gov. Roy Cooper's Task Force for Safer Schools, the state Department of Public Safety shared data showing the increasing firearm offenses among people aged 16 and 17 in the fiscal year 2020-21 compared to 2019-20.

The number more than doubled, from 1,090 to 2,435.

State Juvenile Firearm offenses by Age 10-12-2021
N.C. Department of Public Safety
Data from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety during a presentation on firearms.

But for people under 16, there was actually a decrease in number of firearm offenses reported.

In the meeting Tuesday, task force chair Billy Lassiter said a contributing factor was that far more people became first time gun owners than normal, and may not have safely stored the weapons.

"That led to a lot of juveniles finding guns in easy to get places," Lassiter said. "A lot of times those guns were on front seats of cars, they were not secured in homes, so we found that a lot of kids were either taking them from their parents or people that they knew."

Lassiter said there was a steep increase in the numbers of guns stolen by children in the same time period.

An effort by some lawmakers would designate funding to spread awareness of safe gun storage. Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, advocated that funding be designated in the state budget. Republicans sponsored a bill that would have given the effort funding.

Weeks after a deadly shooting at Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem, Cooper says protecting students' physical and mental health is part of fulfilling the state constitution's requirement of a "sound, basic education."

Cooper added that a five-year plan to protect students at school includes keeping guns off campus in the first place.

"We need to pass laws to help us work towards keeping guns out of the hands of people who are seriously mentally ill, or criminals — people who should not have them," Cooper said.

Cooper says following the shooting in Winston-Salem, students and staff were able to receive help from mental health professionals. Cooper also advocated for expanding Medicaid, saying it would increase the number of people able to get mental health care.

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