New Hampshire legislators are considering creating a bill that would close a loophole in the state’s gun control policy. Currently, a New Hampshire resident with a history of mental illness can go out and buy a gun without any problems, despite the fact that the sale would violate state law.
The problem? The NH background check system does not include mental health records. Gov. Maggie Hassan has asked legislators to support a bill that would bring mental health records into the equation.
“Gov. Hassan believes we must always be looking for ways to keep New Hampshire’s citizens safe from harm, and that we owe it to those we have lost to tragic violence to come together and determine how we can make our communities safer and better,” said Mark Goldberg, a spokesperson for Hassan.
Earl Sweeney, the assistant commissioner of the State Department of Safety, which performs background checks for the state, weighed in on Hassan’s proposal.
“No system is foolproof,” he said. “But we certainly could improve ours in terms of the type of information provided and the speed of making information available.”
One of the problems is the red tape separating the different organizations within the government. The state courts are the only ones with access to mental health records, but a review by the Administrative Office of the Courts determined that the courts do not have the authority to share the information with the Department of Safety.
Sweeney emphasized the delicacy of the situation.
“There are advocates for the mentally ill who feel this would stigmatize someone," Sweeney said. "Mental illness can be treated … so there should be a way to make sure someone is not on [the database] for life if they are treated.”
Lawmakers and state agencies are forced to find a delicate balance between federal law, state law, privacy concerns, Second Amendment rights and public safety. NH legislators will truly have their work cut out for them if they follow Hassan’s request and create a bill that open up mental health records to background checks.