Differing gun right approaches in DC, NH Legislature

Kevin Landrigan, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·4 min read

Apr. 12—While President Joe Biden took executive action and pushed Congress to act aggressively on gun control last week, New Hampshire lawmakers moved in the opposite direction, in favor of repealing local ordinances limiting firearm use and other pro-gun lobby bills.

Biden said within 30 days, the Justice Department will propose a rule to stop the proliferation of so-called "ghost guns."

These are kits available for purchase that contain nearly all the components needed to make a gun. Law enforcement officials said that the guns can't be traced to a crime because they don't have serial numbers.

Congress should adopt laws to expand background checks and tighten gun licensing laws, Biden said.

For the past two years, Gov. Chris Sununu has been on the defensive when it came to Second Amendment restrictions, vetoing 10 bills that would have closed gun show loopholes, created state waiting periods to buy a handgun and permitted judges to take guns away from those deemed to be dangerous.

In 2021-22, the New Hampshire gun lobby is clearly on the offensive. Last week, gun advocates convinced the House of Representatives to pass four bills and nearly adopt a proposed amendment to the Constitution that could have blocked future Legislatures from passing any law restricting gun use.

"We are grateful for the many state representatives that care about our fundamental rights," said J.R. Hoell, secretary of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition. "In stark contrast to the unconstitutional executive orders that President Joe Biden is issuing, the New Hampshire Legislature of the 'Live Free or Die' state of New Hampshire is expanding our freedoms."

Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, took the opposite tack.

"It is frustrating that Chris Sununu and his Republican majorities in the state Legislature continue to hold New Hampshire back on common sense gun safety," Hawkins said in a statement.

"Right now our state is on track to allow loaded weapons on snowmobiles, target practice in town cemeteries, guns and knives in the hallways of our schools, and the expansion of deadly, racist Stand Your Ground laws that allow people to shoot first, ask questions later and avoid culpability for murder."

Pro-gun amendment fails

The only gun measure that failed last week was the proposed constitutional amendment (CACR 8) to ban future lawmakers from passing any restrictions on firearm use.

"This bill invites the people of New Hampshire to speak and nothing more. It would allow the citizens of New Hampshire to decide for themselves if they want to continue to allow the legislature to have the power to pass legislation impacting their civil right to keep and bear arms," said Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown.

Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, called the proposal "nonsensical" and an abdication of the Legislature's duty to consider all public policy proposals that come before it.

"The price of civilization is realizing that individual freedoms, while something to protect and treasure, are not absolute and not unlimited. When we shirk that responsibility as a legislature, everyone loses," Meuse said.

The House endorsed the idea last Wednesday on a 201-174 vote, but that fell 24 votes shy of the three-fifths majority for the amendment to be approved.

House Republicans backed this idea by a 197-3 margin, and Democrats opposed it 171-5.

Pro-gun groups were most aggressively promoting this spring a Senate-passed measure (SB 154) that would prevent all state and local law enforcement officers from carrying out a Biden administration executive order that limits the use of guns, ammunition or knives.

"NH still needs to pass a bill to make us a true Second Amendment Sanctuary State," said Paul Marquis, vice president of NHFC.

Meuse had argued it was unfair for the House to pass legislation (HB 307) to repeal local ordinances, including firearms bans on college campuses and one in his home city that outlaws the carrying of guns in public parks.

"Is that what we really want for our parks and our open spaces?" he said.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association and the University System of New Hampshire opposed the measure.

"If someone wants to host a gun show and sell firearms in the town hall parking lot, or on the town common, the selectmen would have no ability to stop them," Meuse said of the bill.

"Moreover, hunting or target-shooting on town-owned athletic fields or in a town forest would be an absolute right."

Burt pointed out state laws do not permit anyone to fire weapons within 500 feet of an occupied home, and it's already illegal for college students to possess guns on school property.

"We are in danger without this bill of creating a patchwork of regulations, potentially trapping someone passing from one town to another, unaware of the different mandates," Burt said.

The House agreed with Burt, passing that bill, 191-162.

In other debates, the House passed bills to prevent anyone from being charged with either reckless conduct (HB 195) or criminal trespassing (HB 196) because they were displaying a gun in public.

The House also embraced legislation that would allow anyone to carry a loaded handgun while riding in a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle (HB 334).