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Senate GOP halts effort to add mental health records to gun background checks

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Senate GOP halts effort to add mental health records to gun background checks

May 17, 2024 | 10:15 am ET
By Annmarie Timmins
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Senate GOP halts effort to add mental health records to gun background checks
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New Hampshire does not submit commitment records to identify individuals who are legally prohibited from buying a gun. (Getty Images)

Senate Republicans united late Thursday night in almost certainly defeating legislation that would have added New Hampshire to the list of 47 states that provide records of psychiatric hospitalization commitments for gun background checks. 

Republicans voted, 13-10, to table House Bill 1711, meaning it will fail unless a majority of senators votes to take it off the table by May 23 or two-thirds of senators do so after May 23.

The vote was in contrast to March’s House vote, where 25 Republicans joined Democrats in passing the legislation, 204-149. Gov. Chris Sununu made clear Wednesday that had the bill reached his desk, he would have signed it. 

“This is clearly a loophole that has to be closed, and I’m supportive of the bill,” Sununu told reporters. He said gun rights groups, which lobbied lawmakers to reject the bill, were trying to “scare people” into voting against it. 

A House Republican and Democrat who’ve never agreed on prior gun legislation filed the bill in response to the November fatal shooting of a state hospital security guard by a former patient who’d been committed to a psychiatric facility. 

The bill would have required the state to take a person’s guns in limited circumstances: when they were found not guilty by reason of insanity; incompetent to stand trial; or dangerous enough to themselves or others to require involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility.

Senators did not debate the bill Thursday night. But earlier this month, Sen. Bill Gannon, a Sandown Republican, mischaracterized aspects of the legislation in urging colleagues to defeat it.

Gannon said the bill would have provided people no due process before their guns were taken. However, the bill would have required the person go through a court hearing with legal representation. And before ordering a law enforcement officer to confiscate a person’s guns, a judge could have asked the person if they preferred their guns be stored with an individual they knew or a gun store.

The bill would have also created a legal process for a person to regain their Second Amendment rights once they were well.

In an interview Friday, Rep. Terry Roy, a Deerfield Republican and the bill’s prime sponsor, called the Republicans’ decision to table rather than vote down the bill “cowardly.” Tabling is a useful tool, Roy said, when lawmakers need more time to shore up support or opposition to a bill. Here, Republicans had a solid majority.

“We are leaders and we are elected to lead,” he said. “They took the cowardly way instead of saying, ‘We do support this’ or ‘We don’t support this.’ ”

Under federal law, it is illegal for an individual who has been committed to a psychiatric facility to purchase or possess firearms. But New Hampshire does not submit commitment records to identify individuals who are legally prohibited from buying a gun.

Roy, who’s never supported a bill restricting Second Amendment rights, said the gun rights groups mischaracterized his bill as an anti-gun measure. 

“I think it’s important to say one more time that this bill wouldn’t have taken any gun rights away,” Roy said. People who have been committed to a psychiatric facility are “already committing a felony when they are buying a gun and the state is aiding and abetting a felony by not reporting (their commitment).”

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating the November shooting death of New Hampshire Hospital security guard Bradley Haas but has not yet said where the shooter, John Madore, obtained his guns. Madore was killed by a state trooper.