May 16. 2016 1:08PM

Police shooting suspect bought gun legally from Derry shop

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader


Ian MacPherson, charged with two counts of attempted capital murder in the shooting of two Manchester police officers May 13, 2016. 

Despite a history of psychiatric illness, the man accused of shooting two Manchester police officers on Friday was able to walk into a Derry gun store and purchase the handgun linked to the shooting, according to court records released on Monday.

Police affidavits said Ian MacPherson, 32, purchased a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun at Chester Arms on April 1, after successfully completing a background check through the New Hampshire State Police Gunline.

New Hampshire is one of only a handful of states that refuses to disclose the names of dangerously mentally ill people to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system. According to MacPherson’s family, he suffers from schizophrenia and has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years.

“I don’t want to comment either way,” said John Cavaretta, the owner of Chester Arms. He said he would comment after the investigation has progressed. The New Hampshire Union Leader supplied him with a copy of the affidavit that spells out the purchase.

The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act established an instant background check system for would-be gun buyers.

It prohibits gun shops from selling firearms to people flagged as felons, domestic assault perpetrators, fugitives, people facing felony charges, illegal aliens, people dishonorably discharged from the military, people here on a non-immigrant visa, and people judged mentally defective or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

But New Hampshire does not supply the names of people who have been committed to the state hospital to the background check system.

In 2014, the Republican-controlled Legislature killed a bill that would require the names of dangerously mentally ill people to be submitted. The legislation had the support of Attorney General Joseph Foster and the state Department of Safety.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has consistently supported efforts to provide names of seriously mentally ill people to the background check system, said her spokesman, William Hinkle.

Foster was cautious in commenting on the MacPherson case, saying he’s not sure if MacPherson meets the federal definition — the term in federal laws is “mentally defective” — that would have precluded a gun sale.

In New Hampshire, that would amount to being committed to a psychiatric hospital for more than 10 days, state officials said.

Some anxious, depressed and schizophrenic people could safely own a firearm, Foster said.

“There needs to be a fuller discussion of this topic,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said her office is looking at disclosing the names of people judged incompetent to stand trial and not guilty by reason of insanity to the federal system.

“That’s public record,” Rice said, adding she’s not sure if laws would have to be changed to do so.

One of the four Republicans running for governor said she would want to know about any unintended consequences that might arise if the state were to start supplying names to the system.

“I think that’s a conversation I would want to have with the state psychiatrist and the mental health professionals and our law enforcement before we do anything like that,” state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, during a news conference.

According to an arrest affidavit, MacPherson visited Chester Arms on March 19 to purchase the handgun. He used an old Nashua address when he filled out forms. The affidavit said the purchase did not take place because the state police Gunline had to complete the background verification process.

On April 1, he returned and paid $349 cash for the handgun and two magazines. He purchased 50 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition for $18.

The serial number on MacPherson’s gun matched that of the gun found when police took MacPherson into custody around 5 a.m. Friday, the affidavit said. Shell casings recovered from one of the shooting scenes matched the ammunition that MacPherson purchased, police said.

According to previous reports, last year Massachusetts and Vermont started submitting the names of dangerously mentally ill people to the FBI system, leaving New Hampshire as the New England holdout.

Other states that submit few names of dangerously mentally ill people are Alaska, Oklahoma, Montana and Wyoming, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported in December.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporters Doug Alden and Dan Tuohy contributed to this article.