The Bulletin Board

Bill aims to give FBI control of gun background checks

By: - April 28, 2021 5:50 pm
A man carries a holstered gun

The bill is an extension of the state’s 2017 “constitutional carry” law that allows anyone over 18 who is legally allowed to possess a firearm to carry one, whether concealed or out in the open. (Getty Images)

State lawmakers are weighing whether to eliminate the role of New Hampshire State Police in handgun background checks and defer to the FBI instead.

A bill passed by the Senate in early April would end New Hampshire’s “gun line” – the service by which state police assist firearm sellers with background checks for prospective buyers. 

Instead, the seller would contact the FBI directly to seek approval via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Firearm advocates say the current process is clunky and slow, and that delays for some buyers have been months-long.

Democrats, who oppose the bill, say it could weaken protections for domestic violence victims, and argue that the Department of Safety has already worked to make improvements to the system since December. 

At present, the gun line process helps prevent people who have been served stalking or domestic violence orders from being sold a gun; Republicans argue that under the FBI, those protections would work just as efficiently. 

Senate Bill 141 was heard in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Wednesday. 

The current system is multi-tiered. When a customer attempts to purchase a handgun through a commercial sale and a licensed dealer, the seller must reach out to state police and submit a request for a criminal background check. The person’s name is then run through three separate federal databases.

Rifles and shotgun background checks are made directly to the FBI. 

To gun rights supporters, that extra step for handgun purchases is redundant. SB 141 would remove the authority of state police to carry out checks, and instead authorizes the FBI to conduct all New Hampshire background checks itself.

“The FBI provides faster responses in regard to approving the background checks of non-prohibited purchasers, while simultaneously issuing faster denials of attempted purchases by prohibited individuals,” the bill states in its preamble. “This bill saves state tax dollars while producing better results, protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens and protecting the safety of domestic violence victims.”

The bill would prevent state agencies from accessing the NICS system. But it would give county sheriffs the responsibility to check the NICS system to determine whether a gun owner who had a domestic violence or stalking order taken against them could have their firearm returned to them. That is presently the job of state police. 

“Repeatedly I’m getting two messages causing me to oppose this legislation,” said Sen. Jay Kahn, a Keene Democrat, ahead of a Senate vote April 1. “One is coming from county sheriffs, who continue to – they don’t want it, they don’t trust it, and they support our current method of background checks.”

Secondly, Kahn said, the Department of Safety had already streamlined the process to cut down on the delay several months ago. 

“They’ve made improvements, it is working much better, it is acceptable in its current method of operation,” he said.

The bill was approved at that time on party lines, 14-10.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.