Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

In New Hampshire, the process for background checks has divided gun owners. 

In New Hampshire, the process for background checks has divided gun owners.  Aristide Economopoulos

By ANNMARIE TIMMINS

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 02-01-2024 2:40 PM

Of the nearly dozen gun bills lawmakers will soon take up, one is particularly noteworthy because it’s backed by unlikely allies: mental health advocates and a pair of House members who’ve long been at opposite ends of firearm legislation.

House Bill 1711, which has bipartisan support and is scheduled to have its first public hearing Friday, would add certain mental health records to the database that gun dealers must check before selling a firearm.

Individuals who have been committed to a psychiatric institution or adjudicated as “mentally defective” are prohibited under federal law from purchasing a gun from a dealer. But New Hampshire does not submit the relevant mental health records to a database used for background checks.

The November shooting death of state hospital security guard Bradley Haas by a former patient who had been committed to a psychiatric facility at least once led Reps. Terry Roy, a Republican who’s opposed gun restrictions, and David Meuse, a Democrat who has backed them, to partner on the bill, titled “Bradley’s Law.”

Susan Stearns, executive director of NAMI New Hampshire, told the Bulletin in December that her group supported the addition of mental health records under certain conditions: The individual denied a purchase on mental health grounds would have their rights restored; there must be limits on who would be reported, such as only those subject to probate commitment as ordered by a judge; and, mental health reports would have to come from law enforcement or the court, not the psychiatric hospital treating the individual under an involuntary emergency admission.

Several other bills would loosen existing gun laws.

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In cases involving a domestic violence protective order, House Bill 1337 would repeal a prohibition that law enforcement shall not release firearms, ammunition, or deadly weapons without a court order.

The person who sought the protective order could ask a court to order the guns be held only by filing a petition 15 days prior to the order’s expiration date. The bill would also prohibit law enforcement from charging a fee to store weapons that have been ordered held.

House Bill 1339 would put the state Department of Safety in charge of all background checks required for a firearm purchase. Currently, dealers must check the FBI’s NICS system for purchases of long guns, rifles, shotguns, and others. Sales of handguns must go to the state’s Department of Safety for an additional records check.

The process for background checks has divided gun owners. A bill seeking to eliminate the state’s Gun Line and using only the FBI check failed in 2021.

House Bill 1336 would prohibit employers from inquiring into, searching for, or banning employees’ storage of firearms or ammunition in their locked vehicles. It would also provide civil immunity to employers for any economic loss, injury, or death that results from an employer’s adherence to this law.

Senate Bill 332 seeks to address a concern raised by individuals who want a license to carry a loaded pistol or revolver, which they do not need in New Hampshire but must have to carry in other states.

Some police chiefs are refusing to sign licenses if their concerns about the individual’s suitability and safety do not make them ineligible to carry a concealed gun under state or federal law, the only grounds for denying a permit.

“Maybe they’ve never been convicted of domestic violence but I know there have been cases of domestic violence with this person,” Northwood Police Chief Glenn Droulet told a Senate committee earlier this month. “I would hate for a situation to occur (where) that person was just involved in a shooting, and they dig into his background and find out somehow that he has a concealed weapons permit and my name is on it. And now everyone’s coming to me.”

Droulet and others who share his liability concerns have instead been listing the state law that requires they sign the permit unless a person is ineligible under state or federal law. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Pearl, a Loudon Republican, would require authorities to sign the license.

Several other bills seek to tighten firearm laws.

Sen. Debra Altschiller, a Stratham Democrat, is reintroducing so-called yellow flag legislation that passed the Legislature in 2020 but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Senate Bill 360 would allow a family or household member to ask a court to restrict access to firearms by someone it believes poses immediate or significant risk to themselves or others.

Altschiller has also sponsored Senate Bill 577, which would impose a three-day waiting period to buy a firearm. Some individuals would be exempted, including people who hold a hunting license or work in law enforcement.

House Bill 1050, sponsored by Meuse, would allow individuals concerned about their own gun safety to put their names on a voluntary “do not sell” list.

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