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NH House committee backs bill that would add mental health records to federal gun database

New Hampshire Hospital, in Concord, N.H.
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
New Hampshire Hospital, in Concord, N.H.

A New Hampshire House committee is recommending passage of a bill that would add people who are involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities or found incompetent to stand trial to the FBI’s gun background check database.

New Hampshire is currently one of just a handful of states that does not share similar data with the FBI.

The measure, which cleared the criminal justice committee with an 18-2 recommendation on Wednesday, was prompted by the killing of security guard and former Franklin Police Chief Bradley Haas inside of New Hampshire Hospital last November. John Madore, the gunman, had previously been an inpatient at the facility.

“As all you know, I’m one of the staunchest Second Amendment defenders in the House,” Committee Chairman Rep. Terry Roy, a Republican from Deerfield, said. But he added that he couldn’t support someone with a serious mental illness purchasing a gun in the state.

“I don’t know how I could tell the family of Chief Haas or any of my constituents: I think it's okay that they can buy guns,” he said.

Under federal law, people found incompetent to stand trial or involuntarily committed are already prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun, but there is no enforcement.

The bill also includes a restoration process that would allow someone who is evaluated by a psychiatrist to petition the court for the removal of their name from the FBI’s database.

“One of the main objectives we’ve had throughout this process is to make sure that whatever we do doesn’t further victimize and stigmatize people who are already victimized and stigmatized enough, and those are people with mental illness,” said Rep. David Meuse, a Democrat from Portsmouth, who is co-sponsoring the bill.

Authorities have still not released information about where Madore obtained the gun he used to kill Haas. Previous court records detail Madore’s struggles with severe mental illness, including multiple stays in psychiatric facilities. Madore was killed during the incident by a New Hampshire State Trooper who was patrolling the grounds of the hospital.

Under the proposal, anyone who voluntarily seeks inpatient mental health treatment would not have their information shared with the FBI.

The original bill called for a six month waiting period between when a person could petition for the restoration of their gun rights following a psychiatric evaluation, but that time period was shortened to 60 days at the request of the Disability Rights Center.

The advocacy group said while it supports what it calls the "improvements" in the amendment, it is neither supporting or opposing the legislation.

“Disability Rights Center – NH continues to have concerns about the bill’s discriminatory impact on people with mental health disabilities,” said Karen Rosenberg, the group’s policy director. “Although the amendment addresses some concerns, people with mental illness will likely face prolonged discrimination and deprivation of their second amendment rights if this bill passes.”

The bill will next head to the full House for a vote. Also on Wednesday, the state’s Executive Council approved using $2.6 million in federal COVID relief money for security upgrades at New Hampshire Hospital.

State officials said they’re renovating the lobby of the state-owned psychiatric hospital to make it more secure. They also plan to install new equipment to better screen visitors for weapons and contraband.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Weaver said the state is also seeking a contractor to provide armed security at the hospital. She said armed personnel won’t enter the units unless there’s an emergency that calls for it, such as an active shooter.

Those are among the changes that the Department of Safety recommended in a security assessment last year.

Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that the Disability Rights Center was in opposition to the bill. That has been amended to reflect that while the organization stated it doesn't support the bill, it is also not opposing the measure.

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Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.

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