Fight Over Record-Reporting Bill Divides NH Lawmakers

Townhall Media

When a bipartisan group of lawmakers in New Hampshire introduced a bill requiring the state to submit records of involuntary mental health commitments to the National Instant Check System, the conventional wisdom was that the bill would easily pass both chambers of the legislature and be signed by Gov. Chris Sununu. After all, 47 other states already submit those records to NICS, and the bill was named after Bradley Haas; the unarmed security guard who was shot and killed by a former patient at the state-run psychiatric hospital last year. Authorities still haven't said how the suspect acquired his gun, but the argument by the bill's proponent's was straightforward: those adjudicated as mentally ill are already prohibited under federal law from purchasing or possessing a firearm, so this measure would simply help to prevent the unlawful acquisition of firearms by prohibited persons. 

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The bill passed the New Hampshire House on a vote of 204-149, but opposition from groups like the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition led to the state Senate rejecting the bill on two separate occasions this session. NHFC maintained that the bill was akin to a red flag law, and could have led to guns being confiscated from individuals even without a criminal conviction.  

We face a critical moment with HB 1711-FN, a proposed legislation with severe implications for gun owners in our state. This bill allows for the confiscation of firearms from individuals based on psychological and bureaucratic assessments, bypassing the due process that should accompany any infringement on our constitutional rights. 
Labeled as a “red flag” law, it misuses the guise of mental health safety to undermine the Second Amendment protections guaranteed to us. The troubling aspect of this bill is that it doesn’t require a criminal act to strip citizens of their rights; merely the judgment of “unfitness” by officials is enough to seize legally owned firearms.

The bill wouldn't have set up a "red flag" law, however; at least not as it's commonly described. A true "red flag" law is based on an Extreme Risk Protection Order and relies on a judge's finding that someone poses a danger to themselves or others. Guns can be taken from lawful owners "temporarily", though officials can try to extend an ERPO indefinitely. Unlike the New Hampshire bill, a "red flag" law typically doesn't require any sort of mental health evaluation beforehand, and an involuntary commitment isn't necessary to grant an ERPO. 

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The New Hampshire bill deals with those who have been involuntarily committed or found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, or incompetent to stand trial and found by the court to be a danger to himself or herself or others. As the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Jake McGuigan told me on today's Bearing Arms Cam & Co, 2A-friendly states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have all passed their own versions of the "Fix NICS" legislation in the past. Despite the concerns from gun owners and groups like the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, McGuigan says he believes the bill would have helped firearms retailers know whether or not a customer was allowed to purchase a firearm. 

The industry wants to make sure that those people who receive firearms or puchase firearms are lawful owners of those firearms. And if there was an issue with this and and it turned into a confiscation bill, then there probably could have been ways to fix it so it didn't impact family members.

The bipartisan nature of the bill may ironically have helped to drum up opposition, and the overall political environment on 2A issues added even more fuel to the fire from pro-2A opponents of the measure. Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts have either passed or are working on new gun control measures, and the easiest thing for New Hampshire lawmakers to do to show their pro-gun stance is to stand pat on the state's current gun laws. As the New Hampshire Journal reported after the bill cleared the House:

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“The bill is nothing but a gun control measure,” state Rep. JR Hoell (R-Dunbarton) told NHJournal. Hoell is a member of the board of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, and he voted against the bill when it passed the House 204-149.

“The intent is to disarm law-abiding citizens under the guise of mental health,” Hoell told NHJournal. “Mentally ill patients aren’t criminals, and this bill uses rare exceptions to create a process that could be used to disarm anybody.”

Another Granite State Second Amendment organization, the Women’s Defense League, has issued an alert to its members to oppose the bill, calling it “one of the most draconian gun control bills that has ever been pushed by a Republican in the history of New Hampshire.” [Emphasis in original]. “A huge ‘red flag’ is that this bill is co-sponsored by one of the biggest gun control pushers in the legislature, Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth).”

The legislation included a process to restore Second Amendment rights to those who'd been prohibited because of an adjudication of mental illness. In fact, it would not have gone into effect until the New Hampshire Attorney General received federal approval of the restoration of rights process from the ATF. 

The particulars of the legislation may have been less important than the fact that it would add to the number of prohibited persons in New Hampshire, especially at a time when Democrats from Joe Biden on down are doing everything possible (and quite a few things that are unconstitutional) to target lawful gun owners. I don't believe that HB 1711-FN would have led to a huge influx in gun owners being involuntarily committed in order to strip them of their Second Amendment rights, but I also understand the desire to draw a line in the sand and say "no" to anything that remotely resembles a pro-gun control bill. 

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Sen. Daniel Innis, a Bradford Republican, said the bill could have allowed the state to confiscate not only the guns owned by the hospitalized person but also guns owned by other people living in the house.

Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, also criticized the bill’s sponsors for not collaborating with gun rights groups in drafting the bill. “It’s important that their voices are heard, but they’re never included in this process,” she said. “So please, if you’re going to bring things forward, include people who actually own guns and get their opinion.”

As I told McGuigan, I hope that NSSF and NHFC can sit down and come up with language that satisfies the interests of both the firearms industry and their customer base before the 2025 session kicks off. Of course, a lot is riding on this November's elections. Republicans currently have just a five-seat advantage in the 400-seat House, and a four-seat advantage in the 24-member Senate. If they lose their majority, gun owners in the Live Free or Die State are going be fighting bills that are much, much worse than adding mental health disqualifiers to the NICS system. 



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