Friday, May 25, 2007

Confidentiality's unintended consequences

Albert Gibson was worried. His son Stephen, who had been hallucinating and seeing ghosts in their home, had been issued a pistol purchase permit. Under North Carolina law, once such a permit is issued, the sheriff’s office has few options for revoking it. John Aldridge, special deputy attorney general and a leading expert on North Carolina gun laws, explained that sheriffs must either ask the person to voluntarily relinquish their permit, or seek a court order to have it revoked.

And so Albert began working with the sheriff’s office to prove that his son was ill. Sheriff Donnie Harrison wanted to help, but needed documentation. And that’s where the system broke down. When Albert Gibson sought to obtain information regarding his son’s care, he was told that because his son was an adult the information was confidential.

Stephen died after four state troopers and a sheriff's deputy opened fire on him. Authorities say he had robbed a convenience store and led officers on a more than 70-mile car chase. According to the Highway Patrol, the officers shot at Gibson when they saw him holding a handgun as he emerged from the car.

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