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Lawmakers aim to close N.H. gun policy ‘gap’ after hospital shooting

A committee’s unanimous green light will allow the bipartisan bill to be drafted and introduced for debate

A police officer manning a roadblock talks with an employee of New Hampshire Hospital who was trying to get to work, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Concord, N.H. A shooter killed one person Friday in the lobby of the psychiatric hospital and then was fatally shot by a state trooper, officials said. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Investigators are still digging into the circumstances of a shooting last month at a state-run psychiatric hospital in Concord, N.H., where authorities say John Madore, a former patient, fatally shot security officer Bradley T. Haas in the lobby.

They haven’t said yet when and where Madore, 33, may have gotten the gun he used to kill Haas, 63, before Madore was fatally shot by a nearby state trooper. But that’s not stopping state lawmakers from pushing forward with bipartisan legislation in 2024 to fix what they say is an underlying problem: a “gap” in the way New Hampshire handles information relevant to background checks for gun purchases.

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Representative Terry Roy, a Republican from Deerfield, and Representative David Meuse, a Democrat from Portsmouth, went before the House Rules Committee on Tuesday to seek special permission to draft the bill later than otherwise allowed, in light of the Nov. 17 shooting.

Federal law already prohibits those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution from possessing or purchasing firearms. But some states, including New Hampshire, don’t automatically provide data about such commitments to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to verify gun buyers’ eligibility. If their data isn’t in the system, those who are prohibited from purchasing firearms because of an involuntary admission in New Hampshire might pass a background check despite their ineligibility.

It’s still unclear whether that’s what happened in Madore’s case. Court records show he was involuntarily admitted to New Hampshire Hospital in 2016. If he bought a gun from a dealer thereafter, then the background check system didn’t prevent him from completing the transaction. But he might have acquired the firearms in a private transaction or obtained them illegally.

Roy, who chairs the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, called himself “one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment,” and he called Meuse a staunch advocate for gun control. So their collaboration on a gun-related bill is noteworthy.

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“For us to be together here today tells you something, that we think that this is serious and we think it needs to be addressed now,” Roy said.

Roy told the committee the bill will go to great lengths to protect the due process rights of those who have their firearms rights challenged. Those individuals will be able to call witnesses and speak in their defense before a judge enters an order of involuntary commitment, he said. They will also have a pathway to have their rights restored after they get the help they need, he added.

Meuse said lawmakers will have “a lot to unpack” in a bill like this, so he expects them to be in contact with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office to ensure the legality of what is proposed, and with representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness to avoid further stigmatization of those with mental health conditions.

The five Republicans and four Democrats on the committee granted the request unanimously, allowing the bill to be drafted and introduced for debate.

House Speaker Sherman A. Packard, a Republican, thanked Roy and Meuse for their “respectful approach” and “hard work” on the bipartisan effort, and House Democrats called the legislation “a step forward to save lives.”

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This legislative effort comes as the New Hampshire Department of Safety implements safety and security measures of its own, including no longer using unarmed security officers at New Hampshire Hospital and 35 other state office buildings and agencies, in response to the shooting.


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Steven Porter can be reached at steven.porter@globe.com. Follow him @reporterporter.