One of the big unanswered questions hovering over the active investigation into the Nov. 17 fatal shooting at New Hampshire Hospital in Concord pertains to John Madore’s guns: Where did he get them?
Authorities said Madore, 33, used a 9mm handgun to kill security officer Bradley Haas, 63, in the hospital lobby. They also found a rifle and ammunition in a U-Haul truck that was left with its engine running outside as Madore, who had rented the truck, mounted the attack.
But those weapons found at and near the scene of the shooting were not the same handgun and rifle that Strafford police found on Madore’s bed in 2016 after they responded to reports that he had non-fatally strangled his sister and mother. Those other firearms remain in the custody of Strafford police, according to a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Justice.
Court records show Madore was charged with felony assault and reckless conduct for the 2016 incident, during which he barricaded himself in his room and warned officers he had guns and “this was not going to end well.” The charges were dismissed in late 2017 after he underwent a competency evaluation. He was involuntarily admitted, for a time, to the state-run psychiatric hospital he attacked this month.
Investigators haven’t said where Madore got his guns before the shooting. Did he buy them from a dealer at some point in the past seven years?
“If he did, it absolutely clearly demonstrates a major flaw in the system right there,” said Concord-based attorney Evan F. Nappen, who represented Madore in the 2016 case.
Under federal law, those who have been involuntarily “committed to a mental institution” are prohibited from buying or possessing any firearm or ammunition.
Madore might have acquired the firearms in a private transaction or obtained them illegally. But if he went through a dealer, then the background check system didn’t prevent him from completing the purchase. (A follow-up question in that scenario would be whether Madore’s involuntary admission in 2016 was long enough to constitute an involuntary commitment that should have led to the cancellation of any subsequent firearm purchase.)
The DOJ spokesperson, Michael S. Garrity, said investigators are continuing their work and will prepare a public report at the end. He didn’t say where investigators suspect Madore may have gotten the guns.
A public memorial service for Haas was held Monday evening at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton, N.H. A police escort passed at 4:30 p.m. in front of the Franklin Police Department, where Haas served as chief, then the funeral began in Tilton at 5 p.m., according to his obituary.
Nappen, a self-described Second Amendment advocate who has built his practice as a defender of gun rights and gun owners, said the status quo in New Hampshire inappropriately allows prohibited people to slip through the background check process by simply not disclosing their record of involuntary commitment.
“Is that really ‘pro-gun’? I don’t think it is,” he said. “I think it’s pro-stupid.”
Nappen said New Hampshire should update its laws to ensure both that information about involuntary commitments is added to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and that individuals have a path to seek the expungement or annulment of those records after they get the mental health care they need.
“No matter how much you want to support the Second Amendment, you’re not doing anybody any favors by allowing prohibited persons to get away with lying on the form,” he said. “And at the same time, by not having a relief mechanism, honest law-abiding people that want to do the right thing, that are perfectly safe and sane, and want to get their rights restored cannot do it.”
Fixing this pair of problems is something the federal government and other states have been working on for well over 15 years, Nappen said, as evidenced by the federal NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, which passed after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
Still, leaders in New Hampshire and some other states have resisted, citing concerns about the reliability of NICS data and the rights of gun owners and people with mental illness.
New Hampshire is among five states, plus the District of Columbia, without explicit legislation to require or allow NICS reporting in situations where clinicians and family members successfully petition a court to order an involuntary psychiatric commitment, according to research published Nov. 17 by the JAMA Health Forum.
Among all New England states, the JAMA researchers found New Hampshire had the lowest rate per capita of people listed in NICS for adjudicated mental health reasons.
If a dealer sold a gun to Madore, it wouldn’t be the first time such a transaction was allowed in New Hampshire despite documented concerns about severe mental illness. It wouldn’t even be the first time such a series of events enabled violence against law enforcement.
In 2016, Ian MacPherson shot and wounded two Manchester police officers weeks after buying a handgun. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2018 and sent to the state’s secure psychiatric unit. He was recommitted in January 2023 for another five years and transferred to New Hampshire Hospital.
The officers filed suit against the retailer who sold the gun, Chester Arms of Derry, and the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s background check system, known as the Gun Line, claiming they should have blocked MacPherson from buying the firearm. The officers lost at the trial court, so they appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in February 2023. The case is listed as pending.
New Hampshire is among six states that use a mixed system for background checks, according to the JAMA research. While the federal NICS system is used for all firearms background checks, the state-run Gun Line handles the process for handgun purchases. The idea is that the Gun Line can find errors in NICS data and use additional state-level information to verify a buyer’s eligibility.
Frustrations over sluggish response times led New Hampshire lawmakers to pass bills in 2021 to eliminate the Gun Line altogether and rely exclusively on NICS, but Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the bills, concluding that they would cause “substantial unintended negative consequences by ceding control” to the federal government.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence applauded Sununu’s vetoes, saying the bills would have weakened the state’s background check system.