- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Advocates for the mentally ill urged New Hampshire senators Tuesday to focus on who is dangerous in society before removing gun rights rather than singling out people with mental issues.

They testified against legislation that would require New Hampshire to report to federal authorities people judged by a court to be mentally ill. The state would then be required to send their names to be added to the federal list of people denied the right to buy guns during background checks.

Federal law bars people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or declared mentally ill by a judge from legally buying guns from licensed dealers. More than 30 states report names of people judged mentally ill to the government, but New Hampshire is not one of them.

Sen. David Watters‘ bill would require the state to report the names to the FBI to include in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

People would be reported if they are:

- found incompetent to stand trial due to mental disease or disability.

- found not guilty by reason of insanity by a judge or jury.

- under the care of a guardian.

- involuntarily committed to a mental institution after a hearing before.

Kenneth Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. He said a higher correlation exists between substance abuse and violence than mental illness and violence.

“Substance misuse is part of the federal disqualification process for firearm purchase, but little has been done in this area relative to enforcement,” Norton said.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said lawmakers should make policy decisions based on statistical evidence, not out of the hope a future tragedy might be avoided if they discriminate against one group of people.

Michael Skibbie of the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center said people who aren’t mentally ill could be reported to the federal government under the bill.

“You can be charged with shoplifting and found not competent to stand trial,” he said.

Gun rights groups are split over the bill. Gun Owners of New Hampshire opposes the bill.

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