Eight gun bills get spotlight at state house

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Wednesday held a slew of gun-related bills for review in the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. Here’s a recap.

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Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Concord) on Feb. 8, 2023 Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 32

The first bill of the day addressed possession of firearms in school zones. If passed, the bill would prohibit possession of firearms in or on the grounds of a public, private or non-public school or within 1,000 feet of those schools, excluding any privately owned property within that zone.

Presented by prime sponsor Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Concord), the bill aims to help enforce federal gun-free school zones, which he says are no longer enforceable at the federal level due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Opponents of the bill said that criminals do not follow laws and would not follow this bill if it became law. They also noted that law enforcement officials do not have an obligation to act in a school shooter situation, and that they may not be able to act in time in situations where they do intervene. They also added that the bill is not needed given the limited amount of gun violence compared to other states and it would deprive people of their right to self-defense.

Supporters of the bill said that guns in the possession of those other than law enforcement officials will not protect students and school staff during active shooter situations and would help make schools safer.

“Guns do not belong in our schools,” said Granite State Progress Spokesperson Zandra Rice-Hawkins.

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Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) on Feb. 8, 2023 Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 59

This bill requires background checks prior to any transfer or sale of a firearm.

Bill sponsor Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) says that the majority of responsible gun owners support background checks and that it would increase public safety.

Other supporters of the bill said that background checks are currently not required in some gun sales at situations such as gun shows or online sales and that it prohibits gun registries and does not prohibit the transfer of guns between those who can legally own firearms.

Opponents of the bill expressed concerns regarding overreach when it comes to the transfer of gun ownership between family members and friends, that it violates the second amendment and the data indicating support of background checks is biased.

The bill’s opponents also said increasing the need for background checks would help fuel black market gun sales, criminals do not submit to background checks when obtaining firearms and that federal gun background checks are already not being enforced. There were also concerns about potential errors by those conducting background checks or the complicated nature of background checks preventing people from obtaining guns to defend themselves.

Kim Morin, a women’s gun safety advocate, added that this bill would also make it more difficult for smaller gun shops to provide gun safety classes.

The testimony of Rep. Maria Perez (D-Milford) was temporarily stopped after she directly referenced others who testified before her, and followed by saying anyone that cannot afford the fees related to background checks should not purchase a gun and that she has not purchased guns even though she has been threatened in the past.

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David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) on Feb. 8, 2023 Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 76

This bill would add a three-day waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm.

Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) said that this bill would increase safety and help reduce incidents of suicides from those looking to immediately obtain firearms for that purpose.

Opponents of the bill said that the bill is unneeded given the low incidence of gun violence in New Hampshire compared to other states and questioned whether any waiting period would prevent those who want to commit suicide from obtaining a gun to do so.

They also indicated that the waiting period would harm people who seek immediate need of protection, and criminals will not listen to this law.

There were also concerns that this bill would conflict with U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm Bureau regulations.

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John Burt on Feb. 8, 2023 Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 78

This bill repeals a bill passed last year that prohibits the state from enforcing any federal statute, regulation or executive order restricting or regulating the right of people to keep and bear arms.

Shurtleff referenced a six-page memorandum from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office to law enforcement officials warning that they could accidentally break state law during the course of their duties if not careful.

Others supporting the bill felt that it would help local law enforcement prevent those with psychological illnesses from harming themselves or others with firearms.

Former State Representative John Burt (R-Goffstown), a sponsor of the bill that was passed last year, said that significant work was put into the previous bill and indicated that its intent is to protect New Hampshire residents from federal laws perceived as unconstitutional.

Others opposing the bill felt it was an attempt to take away firearms from New Hampshire residents and there were already federal laws in place to protect those with psychological illnesses from self-harm by the use of firearms. They also indicated that the governor can cooperate with federal officials at their discretion, New Hampshire has distinct laws, and there has not been any issues with this law up to this point. There was also testimony regarding a New Hampshire Supreme Court case where a federal ruling overturned by a Massachusetts court was recognized despite confusion by the Nashua Police Department.

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HB 106

This bill defines extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), or situations where individuals can have firearms temporarily taken away in situations where they are found to pose an immediate or significant risk to themselves or others.

Reps. Amy Bradley (D-Manchester) and David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) indicated that this bill can help prevent suicides and there is a high threshold for someone meeting a situation where ERPOs are issued.

Other supporters of the bill have lost members of their families to gun suicide and others said that attempts by suicide by firearm are almost always fatal and similar laws in other states have been successful in preventing suicides.

Burt and other opponents of the bill responded by saying there are situations where someone may falsely accuse someone of being mentally ill in order to provide law enforcement with context to take away someone’s firearms.

Additional individuals opposing the bill believed they think it is discriminatory and unconstitutional, violating the second amendment and potentially the first amendment as well. There were also challenges to the claims that ERPO laws in other states prevented suicides and concerns over vagueness regarding the ERPO process given that it goes through civil law rather than criminal law.

Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-New Boston) noted that ERPOs and “TERPOs” (Temporary Extreme Protective Orders) have been considered unconstitutional in the State of New York following a December 2022 ruling in a Monroe County case where a man requested a TERPO against his estranged girlfriend.

Other opposition said that ERPOs do not address other weapons that could be used in the place of firearms.

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HB 351

This bill aims to prevent the negligent storage of firearms and expands penalties for the negligent storage of firearms.

Meuse told the committee that unsecured firearms are one of the greatest causes of death for children.

“This is not an issue of taking people’s guns away, it’s an issue of helping people understand what a responsibility it is to own a firearm, especially if you have a child,” said Meuse.

Opponents of the bill said that the bill will not decrease firearm fatalities and could cost critical seconds when a firearm owner is faced with life-or-death situations where they may need the firearm immediately and cannot unlock the storage device easily.

There were also concerns about privacy and expansion of penalties, including children merely displaying a gun.

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Rep. Tim Horrigan (D-Durham) on Feb. 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 444

This bill prohibits the possession of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place during an election and was presented by sole sponsor Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham), stating it would increase safety at the polls.

Supporters of the bill stated that some people do not feel comfortable around guns and were concerned that opposers to the bill feel that there are no limits to usage

Burt replied that he likes open-carry firearms and was concealed carrying a firearm as he was speaking today, feeling that he would be disenfranchised from voting if this bill is passed.

Morin added that women would be targeted by criminals, much like the gun-free school zone bill.

“All of the gun control bills we’ve heard today do nothing except make Granite Staters less safe,” she said.

Other opposition indicated that this was a solution in search of a problem that does not exist and that many people carry concealed firearms to polling places without incident.

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Rep. Tom Mannion (R-Pelham) on Feb. 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 474

In contrast to the other bills earlier in the day, this bill expands the law that HB 78 sought to repeal, prohibiting the enforcement of any federal law or rule that might impair a person’s natural right to firearm ownership or self-defense and requires the termination of any public official who attempts to enforce such a federal law.

Sponsor Rep. Tom Mannion (R-Pelham) said it is a “gun sanctuary” law modeled on immigration sanctuary laws elsewhere in the country and said it would create more trust in law enforcement.

Supporters indicated that this would help gun owners who may not be able to keep up with complicated federal gun laws.

Opposition to the bill said that the rights related in the bill only extended to the right to die in gun violence.

Penny Dean, an attorney who spoke against most of the other bills earlier in the day supported the concept of this bill, but not the language, saying it was too vague in regard to the rights and responsibilities of police officers. However, she did say she could support it if there were amendments to the bill.

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Rep. Jason Gerhard (R-Franklin) on Feb. 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 512

The last bill of the day aims to exempt firearms manufactured in New Hampshire from federal laws and regulations.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jason Gerhard (R-Franklin) said the bill was built to fight bureaucratic overreach from the federal government.

Other supporters of the bill felt that federal bills are arbitrarily enforced and New Hampshire should be allowed to opt out of interstate commerce laws.

Opposition to the bill said that manufacturers should not be given exceptions for malfunctioning firearms.

In summary of the day, Meuse released the following statement.

“There have been approximately 50 mass shootings in the United States since January 1st– more slaughters of innocent Americans than days in 2023. Today, dozens of Granite Staters have taken time from their busy lives to speak truth to power, imploring their elected representatives to institute gun violence prevention measures once and for all. Gun deaths in New Hampshire have been on the rise in recent years, with instances of tragic shootings published in our local news weekly. 90% of Granite Staters,* Republicans and Democrats alike, support responsible gun ownership. Firming up background checks, preventing impulsive acts of violence and suicide with waiting periods and extreme risk protection orders, protecting our children from guns on school grounds, and promoting the safe storage of firearms in the home are among the most important pieces of legislation we can pass to give New Hampshire the tools to combat gun violence. These policies are not radical – they are common sense measures with bipartisan support in almost every other state in which they have passed. Let’s do the right thing for the safety of our constituents.”



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About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.