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New Hampshire: Senate Judiciary Committee Recommends Re-Referring Permitless Carry Bill to Committee

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Please contact your state Senator TODAY!

On Wednesday, May 11, the state Senate will vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee report to re-refer House Bill 330 to committee.  This bill would allow a law-abiding person to possess a concealed firearm without a license.

HB 330, introduced by state Representative Jennifer Coffey (R- Merrimack 6), would allow any person who can legally possess a firearm to carry a firearm openly or concealed without obtaining a license.  The current license system would remain in place for those individuals who wish to carry concealed in states that recognize New Hampshire’s license.

However, important changes are still needed.  The NRA, along with its state affiliate - Gun Owners of New Hampshire (GO-NH) - is advocating an omnibus amendment to clarify certain provisions in HB 330.  In addition to repealing the permit requirement, the NRA-backed amendment would:

 *   Update New Hampshire’s concealed carry licensing statute so that it could qualify for the exemption from the federal background check requirement for gun transfers;

 *   Explicitly require licensing officials to issue a license to any applicant not disqualified from possessing a firearm pursuant to state or federal law and limit licensing officials’ discretion in the suspension and revocation of licenses;

 *   Require reciprocal recognition of out-of-state permits and licenses issued to non-residents under the authority of the state in which the person resides; and

 *   In light of the repeal of the license requirement and existing federal law, ensure that unlicensed minors could carry in public only with parental approval or on school grounds only with the approval of school officials.

Please contact your state Senator TODAY and urge him or her to support the Senate Judiciary Committee report to re-refer to committee HB 330.  Contact information for your state Senator can be found here.

Note that certain vocal but misinformed critics have made unfounded or misleading accusations about the NRA-backed amendment. For those seeking a better understanding, we offer the following information. 

There’s an old saying that if the facts don’t support you, argue the law, and if the law doesn’t support you, argue the facts.  What happens when neither the law nor the facts support you?  Apparently you get criticisms like the ones that have recently been leveled at the NRA-supported reforms to New Hampshire’s right-to-carry law.

Given the misinformation and high emotion that have surrounded efforts to bring permitless carry to New Hampshire, NRA believes you should know the facts.  The NRA has repeatedly debunked false claims about its suggested reforms.  Now, without explanation, critics of the NRA are accusing it of trying to enact “gun control.”  Here is the truth.

The NRA/GO-NH amendment has five basic goals: (1) to repeal the current New Hampshire license requirement for the concealed carry or vehicular transport of a loaded handgun; (2) to update New Hampshire’s concealed carry licensing statute so that it can qualify for the exemption from the federal background check requirement for gun transfers; (3) to explicitly require licensing officials to issue a license to any applicant not disqualified from possessing a firearm pursuant to state or federal law, and to limit their discretion in the suspension and revocation of licenses; (4) to require reciprocal recognition of out-of-state permits and licenses issued to non-residents under the authority of the state in which the person resides; and (5), in light of the repeal of the license requirement, to ensure that unlicensed minors could carry in public only with parental approval or on school grounds only with the approval of school officials.

Critics of the NRA/GO-NH amendment have settled on three basic themes: (1) that it incorporates standards of federal law into New Hampshire law; (2) that it explicitly requires background checks for the issuance of a permit; and (3) that it restricts the rights of minors.

Ironically, for all the focus on NRA’s suggested reforms to New Hampshire’s licensing scheme, the principal effect of the NRA/GO-NH amendment would be to recognize a person’s right to carry a firearm in any non-restricted public place without any sort of license at all.  The critics of the NRA/GO-NH amendment ignore the fact that the amendment would repeal the current requirement for a license to carry concealed handguns and make the issuance of a license optional for those who want it.

With respect to the changes to the licensing system, several key points should be kept in mind.

First of all, however one might feel about federal gun control law, it obviously applies in New Hampshire.  To ignore that fact is to entertain a dangerous delusion that could lead to very serious consequences, such as federal prosecution, prison time, and a lifetime loss of firearm rights.  A federally-prohibited person who obtains a state-issued carry license, for example, still cannot lawfully touch a firearm, much less carry one.  By doing so, the person would be committing a 10-year federal felony.

On the other hand, explicitly incorporating federal prohibited person standards and mandatory background checks into New Hampshire’s licensing process would produce tangible benefits for licensees, including an exemption from the usual requirement of a NICS check when purchasing a firearm from a dealer, better opportunities for reciprocity, and more security and peace of mind when carrying or transporting a firearm through federal “Gun-Free School Zones,” which do not affect in-state licensees when the licensing process verifies that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license.

Opponents of the amendment claim it would not accomplish its stated goals.  Their arguments, however, do not withstand legal analysis.  While the NRA cannot speak for the federal government, we have an unparalleled record of helping states gain every possible advantage available under federal law.  The NICS exemption provisions of the NRA reforms, for example, are based on similar NRA-backed amendments to Kansas law which enabled the Kansas license to carry to qualify for the NICS exemption.  Kansas licensees can now acquire firearms more quickly and conveniently, and without having to undergo redundant background checks every time they purchase from a dealer.  Needless to say, NRA has heard no complaints about this from our Kansas members.

The NRA/GO-NH amendment would also require that before a carry license was issued or renewed, the applicant would have to undergo the same sort of background check that is required for a person to obtain a firearm from a dealer.  This requirement is necessary to get the NICS exemption, and no one who is not already prohibited under current law from possessing a firearm would be prohibited from obtaining a carry license under this legislation.  Who benefits from prohibited persons obtaining licenses to carry?  It is certainly not the prohibited persons themselves, who merely expose themselves to felony prosecution.

While the NRA agrees that existing prohibited person standards are in some cases overbroad and that instant background check systems don’t always work perfectly, the solution to these problems is to work toward reforming the law—not to encourage persons to engage in civil disobedience at the risk of incurring federal felonies and a lifetime loss of firearms rights.

In any event, for all of the critics’ concern about the amendments’ explicit incorporation of federal law and its requirement of a background check for licensing, this is already the practice of New Hampshire licensing officials, if not an explicit requirement of the current statute.  The  DSSP 85, the form New Hampshire residents complete to obtain a new or renewal license to carry, clearly states: “Applicants not prohibited under federal or NH law from possession of a firearm shall be deemed suitable persons and the license shall be issued unless the applicant is so prohibited from possessing a firearm” (emphasis added).

The most ridiculous criticisms of the NRA/GO-NH amendment, however, are those that concern the so-called prohibitions against minors carrying firearms.  To understand why these claims have no merit, a brief review of current law is necessary.

First, no matter what state law says, minors still must comply with the requirements of federal law.  Federal law generally prohibits the knowing transfer to a “juvenile” (i.e., a person less than 18 years of age) of a handgun or the knowing possession of a handgun by a juvenile.  While a number of exceptions are provided, none allow minors to carry handguns free of supervision, oversight, or parental permission.  For example, under federal law, the consent of a parent or guardian is only effective if it is in writing, if the parent or guardian himself is not a prohibited person, and if the juvenile has the written permission in his or her possession at all times while also in possession of a handgun. Even then, the consent is only effective for a limited number of specified activities, and the transfer of a handgun to a juvenile may only be temporary. Violators of these provisions face a misdemeanor fine and up to a year in prison (felony penalties are available for more serious violations).

Second, aside from federal law, New Hampshire law currently bans the unlicensed concealed carrying or transport in a vehicle of loaded handguns by adults and juveniles alike, imposes mandatory expulsion on a student who brings a firearm to school without authorization, and generally prohibits (with exceptions) any person from selling, lending, or giving any minor any pistol or revolver.

Against this backdrop, the only requirements the NRA/GO-NH amendment would place specifically on minors is that they would need a license or the permission of their parents or guardians to transport or carry a loaded handgun in public and that a person 18 years of age or younger would require the permission of school authorities before carrying a firearm onto the school's property unless the school property is open to public hunting at the time and any of various factors that indicate the person is hunting can be shown.  Thus, from the perspective of New Hampshire law, minors would actually gain under the NRA/GO-NH amendment, as it would in some circumstances alleviate the current licensing requirement.  Surely the critics of the NRA/GO-NH amendment are not suggesting that unlicensed minors should be able to carry loaded and concealed handguns in public in defiance of their parents’ wishes or on school property in defiance of school officials? The idea that the NRA amendment would prevent minors from hunting or learning to shoot, as some have claimed, is ridiculous and untrue.

Again, the NRA believes that the gun-owning public is intelligent enough to separate fact from fiction.  We encourage those who have questions about the NRA/GO-NH amendment to read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.  Fair-minded readers will see that the critics’ claims are false and that the NRA/GO-NH amendment would be a major advancement for responsible, law-abiding New Hampshire gun owners.

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