An announcement from New Hampshire that the state will begin complying with federal mental health reporting requirements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is raising concerns from disability advocates.
Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, people are prohibited from possessing firearms if they have been involuntarily committed or otherwise “adjudicated as a mental defective,” meaning they have been found incompetent to stand trial in a criminal proceeding, or found not guilty by reason of insanity.
However, the federal government, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Printz v. United States, lacks the authority to force states to hand over mental health records to the NICS.
Until now, New Hampshire has been perhaps the most resistant state, having submitted a total of two mental health records since the NICS’s creation in 1993, according to the Concord Monitor. But on July 10, the New Hampshire Attorney General sent a letter to the state’s Judicial Branch, stating that it will begin reporting mental health records for individuals who meet the Gun Control Act’s statutory definition.
“By ensuring that the federal background check system includes comprehensive information about individuals who are already prohibited by federal law from possessing a weapon, we can help make our communities safer,” Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a news release.
Ken Norton, of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, however, expressed due process concerns about the change.
Specifically, he asked how the state would notify reported individuals, and called on the state to set up a process for people with mental illness to have their Second Amendment rights restored when they have recovered.
“We want to recognize there is an opportunity to save people’s lives that may be at higher risk for suicide,” Norton told the Concord Monitor. But it has to be balanced, without continuing to “reinforce the discrimination against people with mental illness.”
Michael Skibbie, policy director for the Disability Rights Center – NH, echoed similar concerns about the change’s potential to further stigmatize people with mental illness.
“It reinforces false assumptions about a connection between mental illness and gun violence and in so doing it reinforces stereotypes that are extremely harmful for people with psychiatric disabilities,” Michael Skibbie, policy director for the Disability Rights Center-NH, told the Associated Press.
Disability Rights Center-NH and Disability Rights Washington, the parent organization of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in New Hampshire and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.