- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Russell MacPherson says he doesn’t understand why his adult son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and received mental health care, was able to buy a handgun police accuse him of using to shoot two police officers last week.

He said 32-year-old Ian MacPherson was diagnosed around 2008 and received mental health care on and off for years.

“There are individuals that should not be able to have a gun, and (Ian) is one,” he said. “And I think it should’ve been clear that he is one.”

Court records show Ian MacPherson agreed to undergo a mental health counseling program in 2012 after assaulting his father and pleading no contest to simple assault charges. A police affidavit says he went through a background check before buying the gun he’s accused of using to shoot and injure the two Manchester officers, but it doesn’t specify whether he passed it. Politicians, policy experts and gun rights advocates are asking whether he should’ve been able to buy the gun, given his criminal record and mental health issues.

The case “raises the very serious public safety and public health challenge of how to make sure that people with mental illness don’t have access to fire arms,” Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said.

But MacPherson’s available court records don’t show anything that would bar him from buying a gun under federal law. He was deemed competent to stand trial in the 2012 case and was not committed to a mental institution, said Edwin Kelly, administrative judge for the circuit court system. And a child-on-parent domestic assault doesn’t trigger the federal gun ban.

In another state, it might’ve been different, but New Hampshire has some of the nation’s most lenient gun laws. States including California and New York add restrictions on who can buy a gun.

“It seems like there’s just so many different cracks that (Ian MacPherson) fell through that allowed this to happen,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

MacPherson wasn’t in the courtroom for his arraignment, at which his lawyer entered a not guilty plea for him to charges of attempted capital murder. He’s being held without bail.

The executive director for the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Ken Norton, noted the vast majority of violent crimes are not committed by people dealing with mental illness. He said an involuntary commitment for mental illness shouldn’t necessarily trigger a lifelong ban on buying a gun.

“I think the conversation has been often dominated largely by emotion and fear rather than by science,” he said, adding, “people recover from mental illness.”

Federal guidelines bar someone from buying a gun if he has been deemed incompetent to stand trial or involuntarily committed to a mental institution. But some states take the restrictions further. In New York, someone can be barred from buying a gun if a mental health professional thinks he’s likely to cause serious harm to himself or others. Illinois law says someone can’t get a firearm identification card if he has been a patient in a mental health facility within the past five years.

Almost all states report certain mental health records to the federal background checks system. But New Hampshire does not, and legislative efforts to change that in recent years failed.

The shootings of Officer Ryan Hardy, in the face and torso, and Officer Matthew O’Connor, in the leg, are reigniting the debate over New Hampshire’s choice not to share the records, although it appears MacPherson’s records from the 2012 case weren’t serious enough to be submitted.

Hassan supports sending the mental health records to the federal background checks system, but she declined to say what, if any, further changes to the state’s gun laws she’d support.

Other lawmakers and domestic violence advocates raised concerns that a child-on-parent assault isn’t a qualifying domestic violence instance that bars someone from buying a gun.

For Russell MacPherson, his son’s case highlights the need for changes to who can and can’t buy a gun in New Hampshire.

“I believe that the system messed up in a big way,” he said. “If in fact (Ian) is the one that did this, that did not have to happen.”


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