Tipster who foiled alleged shooting plot wants more scrutiny of gun buyers

Published: Feb. 22, 2018 at 5:40 PM EST
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We are hearing more from the student who helped avert a tragedy in Vermont.

Wednesday, WCAX News introduced you to Angela McDevitt, the 17-year-old from New York who's being called a hero because she turned disturbing text messages over to authorities. Those led to the arrest of Jack Sawyer, 18, who police say was plotting to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School.

McDevitt says it was hard to do because Sawyer wasn't like that when she knew him when they were in mental health treatment together.

Reporter: When you were at the treatment facility, what was Jack Sawyer like?

Angela McDevitt: It always struck me he was very attentive to detail and very kind.


Reporter: People are calling you a hero, as well.

Deputy Evan Traudt/Dutchess County Sheriff's Office: I followed through with it and that's about it. She definitely is the one who did the most of it.

Sawyer's public defender said there are a lot of unproven allegations in this case, and it's "a lot different than initially portrayed."

When our Cat Viglienzoni spoke to Angela McDevitt Wednesday, McDevitt spoke a lot about mental health. She met Sawyer at a mental health treatment school in Maine.

McDevitt says she struggles with her own mental health issues and she wants mental health to become a larger conversation in our society. Specifically, she mentioned she wants to see changes to how mental health factors into background checks when people are buying guns. She says mental health plays a large role in shootings and the current background check system does not do enough to dig into why the person is buying the gun and what they might do with it. Right now, she doesn't feel that is being addressed enough.

"Looking into their past, really. And a big part of that is mental health. Like, have they been in a hospital for mental health reasons? That's a big warning sign if someone's buying a gun and they're diagnosed as suicidal or depressed," McDevitt said. "Sorry, I get a little angry at this because it's ridiculous that it has to take tragedies for people to look at that."

McDevitt was not named in the court paperwork, so she could have stayed under the radar. But she told WCAX News part of what inspired her to come forward publicly was that she wanted to raise awareness about this issue.

We know that some mental health check is already required for background checks when someone is buying a gun. So what does that involve? Part of it is on a form that gets filled out when you buy a gun at a shop. Question 11, part F, asks if you have ever been considered "mental defective" or if you have been committed to a mental institution. But it only includes mental states that have been declared in court or involuntary commitments to a mental institution. If you checked yourself in, it won't disqualify you.

If you lie on the form-- that's hard to catch. Vermont has taken some steps to mitigate that. In 2015, the state passed a law requiring the courts to report people who have mental health-related court orders to the federal background check system. They have 48 hours to do that.

People can later petition to have that removed from their record. Some 589 Vermonters have had their names added since the law was passed.

Gun store employees told WCAX News the FBI does not let them know why people are delayed or denied purchasing a gun. And some said they are also allowed to deny a sale if the person is acting in a concerning way during the purchase.

Also in Vermont, private sales require no background check. It's a potential loophole. But one store told us that they have conducted background checks for private sellers who want to make sure that they are selling the gun to someone who is allowed to have one. As we heard, the governor's proposal seeks to close the private sale loophole.