N.H. Senate OKs Bill On Guns, Mental Health

Concord — Senators passed a bill on Thursday that creates a process for people to annul their mental health records and remove their names from a national gun background check system.

The vote was 17-7, with four Democrats joining Republicans after several attempts to table the bill.

A second piece of the bill that would have created a committee to study laws related to the mentally ill and firearms did not pass.

The original version of the bill would have required the state to report records of those deemed mentally incompetent by a court or involuntarily admitted for treatment to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, therefore preventing them from purchasing guns.

Right now, New Hampshire is one of 17 states that doesn’t report this information to the system.

But during public hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from people who said there was no way to remove their name from that list if their mental health improved.

“These people are caught up in a system that they can’t get out of,” Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, said.

Under the bill, anyone can file a petition with the court to annul their mental health records in the following cases: after termination of mandated guardianship or after the expiration of an involuntary treatment or mandatory commitment order.

A judge must grant the petition unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence that the person’s mental state still poses likelihood of danger to himself and others or might harm the public interest.

Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, said the bill was about more than giving people access to guns.

It would provide an important process for people who recover from mental illness to move on with their lives, he said.

“Let’s for a moment put aside all this business of guns, and let’s say can we take a step today to restore rights of the mentally ill,” Watters said.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, pointed to veterans coming back from overseas with post-traumatic stress disorder as a group of people who would benefit from the bill.

Sen. Russell Prescott, a Kingston Republican, also said the bill created a necessary process for people deemed mentally incompetent in other states who move to New Hampshire and would like to get their names out of the background check system if their mental health improved.

But several Democrats said the bill had too many questions and needed further study.

The bill failed to consider how local communities and courts would handle the petitions — cost and timewise — and who would defend people seeking to annul their records in court, Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Republican, said.

It would “put guns into people’s hands instead of considering a more thoughtful approach to who should have weapons,” she said.

The bill will now go to the House, where it is less likely to pass.