NH Senate Votes to Loosen Public Safety Laws, Advance Dangerous Annulment Process to Restore Gun Rights to Mentally Ill
CONCORD, NH – The entire Senate Republican caucus and four Senate Democrats voted today to erode the quality of SB 244’s original relief from disabilities (RFD) program to restore gun rights for people whose mental health treatment has ended—the appropriate formula—and replace the bill with a dangerous and untested “annulment” process that doesn’t take into account mental health history. The 17-7 vote means the bill moves to the House.
Statement from Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice Hawkins:
“SB 244’s original goal was to report the names of those who are prohibited purchasers of firearms due to mental health to be reported to the NICS background check system, and to establish a relief from disabilities program for people whose mental health treatment has ended so that they can restore their gun rights. Granite State Progress supported these original goals, but the gun lobby amended version of SB 244 jeopardizes public safety.”
“The annulment process that passed the Senate diminishes the state’s ability to determine when a person should get relief, and does not provide judges with appropriate evidence to consider when making these determinations. Unlike the original bill, the amendment does not require any consideration of the person’s mental health history, the person’s reputation as developed through character evidence or character witnesses, and changes in the person’s condition. No documentation is required regarding documentation of the commitment or treatment resolution, nor does it require releases allowing mental health providers to provide opinions about the person’s dangerousness and suitability to possess firearms.”
“SB 244 will likely not meet federal standards for a relief from disabilities program, meaning the State of New Hampshire cannot apply for federal funding to help implement a process to submit mental health records. The striking irony is that SB 244 originally set out to make sure New Hampshire was submitting mental health records to the background checks system, and instead this gun lobby amendment narrowed the bill to only how to remove records we aren’t even adequately reporting. We are beyond disappointed that Senate Republicans, aided by four Senate Democrats, chose to undermine public safety and establish an untested and unstable annulment process that could put guns back in the hands of those who should not have them. Following tragedies such as Newtown and Virginia Tech, we expect more.”
“On a better note, the Senate rejected a skewed study commission that focused solely on how to keep records out of the background checks system. That commission membership was heavily tilted towards gun groups and sought to undermine the current background checks system.”
SB 244’s annulment process doesn’t meet best practices and jeopardizes federal funding opportunities should New Hampshire start to report mental health records in the future.
The ATF form, wherein states apply for their Relief from Disability programs to be certified in order to receive federal funding, makes it clear that the state program must “receive evidence concerning and [must] consider…the circumstances regarding the [prohibition]; applicant’s record, which must include, at a minimum, the applicant’s mental health and criminal history records; and applicant’s reputation, developed, at a minimum, through character witness statements, testimony, or other character evidence.” The amendment’s process doesn’t require mental health records be submitted, doesn’t require any character evidence, and doesn’t require consideration of the circumstances surrounding prohibition.
Even red states that pass these laws require that mental health professionals weigh in: South Carolina passed a law last year that requires: 1) examination of the circumstances surrounding the prohibition, 2) the petitioner’s mental health and criminal history records, 3) character evidence, and 4) a current evaluation by either the state Department of Health or a licensed physician addressing whether the petitioner poses a threat to self or others.
The amended version also lowers the judicial standard for restoring rights, making it more likely that people who are still dangerous will have their rights restored and be able to buy guns. Under the original bill, the petitioner had to show “by a preponderance” that he is not dangerous. Under the amendment, the other side has to show “by clear and convincing evidence” (a higher standard) that he is dangerous, and that the “danger” would have to be “potentially serious.”