NH1 News Exclusive: Hassan wants to 'scour every option' to keep guns from mentally ill
CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan says New Hampshire lawmakers should “look again” at passing a bill that would allow the state to disclose the names of mentally ill people deemed dangerous to the FBI’s national background check gun registry.
And the Democratic governor, in an exclusive interview with NH1 News on Tuesday, pushed back against criticism from Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte about the time she’s spent out of state fundraising for her Senate challenge against Ayotte, calling the charges “hypocritical.”
And Hassan also criticized Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who’s running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, for questioning why she didn’t visit the injured police officers.
The man accused in the shootings legally purchased the weapon linked to the incident at a gun store in Derry after successfully completing a background check, according to court documents released Monday. This despite the fact that Ian MacPherson had a history of psychiatric illness.
New Hampshire’s the only state in New England, and just one of a handful across the country, that doesn’t disclose such names to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.
“I am very concerned about the issue of people with serious mental illness having access to firearms. And I was part of an effort to try to begin addressing that, to get New Hampshire to report the names of people with that kind of serious mental illness who shouldn’t have access to firearms to the federal system,” Hassan told NH1 News.
“That effort failed for a variety of reasons. I think it is something we should look at again as we scour every option we have to make sure we can to protect the people of New Hampshire from this kind of senseless violence,” the governor added.
But state Rep. J.R. Hoell of Dunbarton, a member of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, disagreed, telling NH1 News that “we shouldn’t treat the mentally ill as criminals.”
Asked about those comments, the governor said “other states have found thoughtful ways to make sure people who have an illness that could lead to violent acts don’t have access to firearms. We make these kind of decisions in many other kinds of instances. Some people with certain kinds of illnesses don’t have access to automobiles, to drive automobiles, for instance.”
“I think it’s really important that we look at this. We always have to balance the rights of people with mental illness, the rights of responsible gun owners, but I think this is one of those places where everybody in New Hampshire can come together and find a way to make sure that people who are having a serious episode of mental illness don’t have access to firearms,” she continued.
State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, who’s running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, urged caution before moving ahead with such a legislative push.
“I think that’s a conversation I would want to have with the state physiatrist and the mental health professionals and our law enforcement before we do anything like that. I would want to have a conversation with all those folks, those experts, to find out really what are the unintended consequences if we do something like that and how we should move forward,” she told reporters at a news conference on Monday.
Hassan defends out of state travel
Hassan was in Chicago at a fundraiser for her U.S. Senate campaign at the time of the shootings in Manchester. But she told NH1 News “I was in constant contact with the attorney general, with the Manchester chief of police. I spoke with both officers who were shot and their wives, spoke with Mayor Gatsas. I made the decision to monitor the events to make sure that the police and all of our first responders we’re getting the resources that they needed, to make sure those resources were coordinated and I monitored it throughout the day.”
Answering a question from WMUR-TV on Monday, Gatsas said " I would have thought wherever she was, she would have come into town to see how those officers were."
Asked about that comment, Hassan told NH1 News “what I think is truly unfortunate here is that somebody’s politicizing what was a very serious event.”
NH1 News has learned that Hassan separately visited both officers over the past three days.
Hassan’s come under repeated criticism over the past two months from the Ayotte campaign for her out of state travel. The race between the popular Republican senator and popular Democratic governor is one of the most high profile, expensive and negative Senate showdowns in the nation.
Last week Ayotte told NH1 News “the governor is the chief executive of the state and she said she was going to be focused on that job even though she was running for Senate. So I think that’s really an important issue.”
Responding on Tuesday, Hassan said “in terms of the attack from the Ayotte campaign it’s pretty hypocritical. Just recently Sen. Ayotte was supposed to be back in the state for the Senate state work week and for 80% of those days she had no public events in New Hampshire while she was fundraising. So it’s a pretty standard and hypocritical political attack.”