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New Hampshire: The Truth About House Bill 330 and the NRA

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A group in New Hampshire sent out an alert on Friday relating to House Bill 330 that includes many false and baseless accusations.

The National Rifle Association has been the champion of right-to-carry legislation since its origin and always will be.  As the leading gun rights organization in the country, the NRA believes that the fundamental right to keep and bear arms should be protected and even restored.  Twenty-five years ago, fewer than ten states made it possible for average, honest citizens to carry firearms for self-protection.  Today, as a result of the NRA’s efforts, forty states respect that right - and many of those states recognize out-of-state permits as well.

The NRA supports permitless carry legislation.  We have successfully helped enact such statutes in Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming, and sought this year to pass similar laws in Colorado, Iowa, Montana and South Carolina in addition to the Granite State.  However, in New Hampshire, there is a policy difference between some organizations representing gun owners on H.B. 330, legislation that seeks to recognize the right to carry a loaded, concealed handgun without a license.  As a result, there has been much misinformation disseminated about H.B. 330, proposed changes to this bill, and NRA's position on it.

Given these unfounded and misleading accusations, we believe you should know the facts.  The NRA has repeatedly debunked false claims about suggested reforms to H.B. 330.  Now, without explanation, some critics are accusing the NRA of trying to enact "gun control." That assertion is absurd.

Unfortunately, H.B. 330, while well-intentioned, was poorly drafted. In its current form, the bill falls short of good firearms policy.  Changes and clarifications are necessary to not only strengthen its provisions, but also to prevent serious, unintended legal consequences.

As passed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, H.B. 330 would create legitimate concerns about the carrying of concealed loaded handguns in public by minors.  While the bill would not protect the carrying of firearms by minors, it would not actually prohibit it either.  This is a key distinction, as under current law, minors are essentially prohibited from carrying concealed loaded handguns in public by the licensing requirement, which would be repealed if H.B. 330 were enacted.

Even more problematic, H.B. 330 would preempt prosecution for the carrying of a firearm in any situation that is not specifically excluded in the bill itself. This includes such instances as:

* The carrying of a firearm by an inmate in jail who is not a prohibited person under New Hampshire law;

* The carrying of firearms contrary to restrictions in protective orders and restraining orders;

* The carrying of firearms contrary to restrictions in a parolee’s or probationer’s conditions of supervision (the bill only mentions bail restrictions);

* The carrying of a firearm on private property in defiance of the property owner’s wishes; and

* The carrying of a firearm while committing a felony.

Also troubling, H.B. 330 in its current form additionally purports to protect, as a matter of New Hampshire law, the carrying of firearms by various categories of persons who are prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law.

Accordingly, the NRA and our state affiliate, Gun Owners of New Hampshire, worked together to help draft an amendment that would achieve the following goals:

(1) repeal the current New Hampshire license requirement for the concealed carry or vehicular transport of a loaded handgun;

(2) 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) explicitly require licensing officials to issue a license to any applicant who is not disqualified from possessing a firearm pursuant to state or federal law, and to limit licensing officials' discretion in the suspension and revocation of licenses;

(4) 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, ensure that unlicensed minors may carry in public only with parental approval and that all minors could carry on school grounds only with the approval of school officials (unless on school grounds open to hunting).

Contrary to the false alert, the House (Criminal Justice and Public Safety) committee did not reject the NRA/GO-NH amendment, as it was never considered or voted on.

Critics of the NRA/GO-NH amendment seem to have settled on three main arguments:

(1) it incorporates standards of federal law into New Hampshire law;

(2) it explicitly requires background checks for the issuance of a permit; and

(3) it restricts the rights of minors.

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

With respect to the changes to the licensing system, several key points should be kept in mind.  However one might feel about federal gun control laws, they obviously apply in New Hampshire, as they do throughout the country.  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 gun 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 ten-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 in other states; 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.

The amendment supported by NRA/GO-NH would also require that before a carry license was issued or renewed, the same sort of background check that is required for a person to obtain a firearm from a dealer would be conducted.  This requirement is necessary to get the NICS exemption, and no one who is not already prohibited under current state or federal 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 left with a false impression that they are acting legally when instead they are merely exposing themselves to federal felony prosecution.  The criticism of this change ignores the explicit incorporation of federal law and its requirement of a background check for licensing that 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."

The most unfounded criticisms, 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 some exceptions) any person from selling, lending, or giving any minor any pistol or revolver.  Against this backdrop, the only requirement the amendment supported by NRA/GO-NH 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.  In addition, a person 18 years of age or younger would require the permission of school authorities before carrying a firearm onto school property unless it 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 added protection under the NRA/GO-NH amendment, as it would in some circumstances alleviate the current licensing requirement.  The idea that the amendment supported by NRA/GO-NH would prevent minors from hunting or learning to shoot, as some have claimed, is ridiculous and untrue.

Finally, the alert accuses NRA's representative, John Hohenwarter, of saying that "New Hampshire is too stupid to know what it needs."  This is a completely false and libelous allegation.  The NRA and our representatives -- including John Hohenwarter -- believe 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 House Bill 330 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.  In the meantime, with your support, the NRA will continue to lead the effort in protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, as we have done successfully for 140 years.

 

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