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March 27. 2014 7:59PM

Bill would help gunowners who recover mental health

CONCORD — The state Senate Thursday passed legislation establishing a way for those who had been treated for mental health issues, and have recovered, to legally purchase or regain their firearms.

The bill now moves to the House.

Senate Bill 244 originally would have required those with court-determined mental illness to be added to the federal list of people prohibited from purchasing guns.

But after an outcry at a January public hearing by advocates for the disabled and gun rights groups, the bill was changed to set up a procedure for having a person's mental health records removed from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Currently, there is no way for someone in New Hampshire on the federal prohibition list to have his or her name removed after being cured of a mental illness.

Another part of the bill sets up a commission to study the relationship between mental health and firearm.

The Senate, on a 13-11 partisan vote, eliminated the committee to study what the relationship between mental illness and the state's reporting guidelines to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Index.

Sen. Sharron Carson, R-Londonderry, said the commission is the most controversial part of the bill.

She urged her colleagues to approve the annulment process so those who experience mental illness but are cured could have their constitutional rights to bear arms be restored.

But Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the annulment process should not go forward without study.

"With annulment we are putting the cart before the horse," Soucy said. "I believe we should do some study before we move forward."

She said the proposal shifts the burden of proof to local or county government and raises the standard of proof, which would increase local and county costs.

Because the state does not report mental illness incidents to the federal list, Soucy said there is nothing to annul.

But Carson argued there are people caught up in a system they can't get out of. "This creates a path to restore their Second Amendment rights," she said.

The annulment proposal passed on a 17-7 vote.The bill now goes to the House where it faces an uphill battle.

grayno@unionleader.com


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