PHOENIX - An Arizona House committee wants to require community colleges and universities to inform mental-health specialists when students, faculty or others are suspended or expelled because of threats of violence.
But recognizing and reporting threats won't result in the automatic denial of the ability to buy a gun or ammunition.
The unanimous action by the Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety last Wednesday came slightly more than a month after six were killed and 13 injured, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a Tucson shooting. Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, noted that Jared Lee Loughner, charged in that case, had a history of run-ins with officials at Pima Community College over allegedly disruptive behavior, eventually resulting in his suspension.
Heinz's original measure would have required officials at any school to notify the Department of Public Safety when a person "suffered a significant or severe psychological episode or incident." The idea was to create a database that licensed gun dealers would have to check before making a sale, he said.
That plan ran into problems, Heinz conceded.
"It created a presumption of crazy," he said, allowing education officials to put someone's name on a do-not-sell-guns-to list without any due process.
The new version in HB 2559 is more circumspect.
It would require state and local agencies, including public colleges, to file a report with local behavioral-health agencies if someone has been expelled, suspended at least twice or fired because of violence or threats of violence. But those threats would have to be aimed at someone else.
Heinz said that means someone who kicks a trash can and is suspended, even twice, is not going to have his or her name forwarded to mental health experts.
Even in cases where it is, Heinz said, that doesn't mean anything more will happen.
He said behavioral-health agencies have experts who can review the information and determine if further action is necessary. In most cases, Heinz said, the report will be set aside; in some, a specialists might try to contact the person or a family member.
It is only after some belief that a person is a danger to self or others that there might be an effort made to have the person committed temporarily for evaluation, he said.
In response to questions about its handling of Jared Lee Loughner when he was a student there, Pima Community College released an e-mailed statement late Monday.
The e-mail, sent to KGUN in response to its reporting, stated that in the college's interaction with Loughner, "he was not violent nor did he threaten others or himself. He had no known history of violence. He exhibited disruptive behavior in the classroom, which interfered with the smooth progress of teaching and learning."
The e-mail, from Cindy Klinge, a representative of a marketing firm used by the college, said the college's police officers followed procedures when dealing with Loughner. That included sharing their reports with the Pima County Sheriff's Department in a database accessible to all law agencies.