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NH Republicans temporarily block bill adding mental health records to gun background check system

A display case at a New Hampshire gun shop
NHPR file photo
A display case at a New Hampshire gun shop

A bipartisan bill to require New Hampshire to share more information with the FBI’s gun background check database failed in the Republican-controlled state Senate Thursday.

New Hampshire is currently one of just five states that does not require or allow the sharing of involuntary commitment records with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

The proposal before lawmakers this session would have added people who are involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities or found incompetent to stand trial to that federal system. Anyone who voluntarily seeks mental health treatment, including at inpatient psychiatric facilities, would not have been affected by the measure.

Under current federal law, people found incompetent to stand trial or involuntarily committed are already prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun, but in practice there is no enforcement mechanism to prevent the purchase of firearms, except through the FBI’s background check system.

On a 13-to-10 party line vote, the Republican majority moved to table the bill without debate, meaning the legislation is stalled for now, but could return later this session.

Previous efforts to close what some gun safety activists consider a glaring loophole in the background check system have failed, but the idea found renewed interest in the wake of the killing of Bradley Haas inside of New Hampshire Hospital last November. The gunman, John Madore, had previously been an inpatient at the facility and had a history of serious mental illness, according to court records.

The measure cleared the New Hampshire House on a bipartisan vote earlier this year, and is co-sponsored by Rep. Terry Roy, a Republican from Deerfield, who has described himself as a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights.

Earlier this week, Gov. Chris Sununu said he supported passage of the bill. Sununu told reporters he believed a small number of gun rights groups “have garnered enough votes to scare people into not doing it, but this is clearly a loophole that has to be closed, and I’m supportive of the bill.”

On a 3-2 vote earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend killing the bill, known as Bradley’s Law, with Republicans citing concerns about its impact on law-abiding citizens.

The bill tabled Thursday included 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, a key demand of Republicans and advocates for people with disabilities.

Authorities have not released information about where Madore obtained the gun he used to kill Haas last November inside the lobby of New Hampshire Hospital in Concord. Madore was shot and killed by a New Hampshire State Trooper who was on the grounds of the facility.

Court records detail Madore’s struggleswith severe mental illness, though a number of records remain sealed from public view. In 2016, following an armed standoff in his home, a judge ordered Madore to temporarily turn in any weapons in his possession.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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