Should New Hampshire change its gun control laws?
By: LFDA Editor
Compared to other states, New Hampshire has relatively few regulations on the sale and ownership of firearms. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence conducts an annual survey of state gun laws in which states are given points for the different types of firearms regulations they have in place. In 2010 New Hampshire scored six points out of a possible 100, indicating a low level of regulation.
However, some argue that New Hampshire has too many constraints on the Constitutional right to bear arms. Twenty-two states also scored six or fewer points on the Brady survey, indicating that many states have fewer regulations on firearms.
New Hampshire’s current regulations on firearms can be summarized as follows:
- It is illegal to carry a firearm in a New Hampshire court.
- It is illegal for public school students to carry firearms while on school grounds.
- Administrative regulations limit the possession of firearms in licensed child care facilities, foster homes, prison grounds, and the State House.
Sale and Transfer
- It is illegal to transfer ammunition or a handgun to a minor, although there are numerous exceptions. For example, parents and grandparents may legally give a handgun to a minor relative.
- An individual may be charged with “negligent storage of firearms” if a child gains access to that individual’s firearm and uses the firearm in “a reckless or threatening manner.” However, the law is very narrowly written.
New Hampshire is a “shall issue” state
. In other words, law enforcement is required to issue a license to carry a loaded, concealed handgun unless the person applying for the license is a felon or otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm. New Hampshire does not require a license to purchase a firearm, does not require firearms to be registered, and does not require a waiting period before finalizing a firearm purchase.
Additional federal regulations apply to the sale and ownership of firearms in New Hampshire. For example, federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct a background check on each purchaser. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearms Sales
, the New Hampshire Department of Safety conducts all background checks for handgun sales. For long gun sales, the firearms dealer must contact the FBI for a background check. While federal law
prohibits the possession of a firearm by anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution,” states are not required to report the identity of such individuals to the National database used to perform background checks. New Hampshire currently keeps mental health records confidential, and does not provide mental health records to the federal database.
Evaluating the regulation of firearms is difficult. Is the goal decreased crime, decreased deaths due to firearm-related injury, or something more abstract, like increased liberty? How can the effect of gun control on these goals be separated from other effects, such as the effect of cultural norms? In the seminal text Sense and Nonsense about Crime, Drugs, and Communities,* criminologist Samuel Walker analyzed numerous firearms regulation regimes and concluded that neither limiting ownership of firearms nor expanding gun rights effectively decreased crime. Only this much is certain: the debate on gun control is not likely to end soon.
Here are some general arguments for and against firearms regulations:
In favor of firearms regulations:
- The United States has a much higher homicide rate, and firearm homicide rate, than European countries, which generally have stricter firearms regulations
- "Although guns can and have been used successfully in self-defense in the home, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense" (Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence)
- Other potentially dangerous items, including automobiles, are regulated heavily by the federal government
Against firearms regulations:
- In the past two decades the homicide rate in the United States has decreased, even as firearm ownership has increased (National Rifle Association)
- Criminals do not follow laws, so regulations on firearms only hurt legal gun owners
- The second amendment protects the right to own firearms, but does not protect the right to own an automobile or other potentially dangerous items. Firearms therefore should be subject to fewer regulations.
The 2014 battle over gun control began with HB 1589, sponsored by Rep. E. Elaine Andrews-Ahearn (D-Hampton Falls). HB 1589 would have required background checks for all firearms sales. The House voted to kill the bill February 12, 2014. Later the same day Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton) introduced an amended version of the bill, which stripped all of the language about background checks and instead created a committee to study the relationship between New Hampshire's gun laws and the low crime rate. The House once again voted to kill HB 1589.
In a move that some legislators viewed as retaliation, on February 20, 2014 the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to radically amend a gun rights bill sponsored by Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton), HB 1264. As originally written, HB 1264 would allow nonresidents to carry loaded firearms in New Hampshire, provided that their home state allows them to carry firearms. The Committee rewrote HB 1264 to instead create a committee to study expanded background checks for firearms sales. The House tabled HB 1264 on March 19, 2014.
One other bill is still alive in the legislature, SB 244, sponsored by Sen. David Watters (D-Dover). As originally written, SB 244 "requires the name of a person who has been adjudicated as not mentally competent to be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for the purpose of conducting a background check to determine eligibility to possess a firearm." However, the Senate amended SB 244. The bill now establishes a commission to study the relationship between mental health and firearms, and creates a path to remove a person's mental health records from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The House is now considering SB 244.
The House killed four other 2014 bills related to gun control, HB 1375, HB 1362, HB 1438, and HB 1379. Sponsored by Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), HB 1375 would have allowed towns to adopt a policy for local police to collect unwanted firearms. HB 1362, sponsored by Rep. Lenette Peterson (R-Merrimack), would have made it a felony offense to enforce federal firearms restrictions, if the firearm in question is manufactured and/or owned in New Hampshire. Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton) sponsored HB 1438, a 2014 bill that would have shifted the burden of proof from the defendant to the state whenever the state prosecuted a person under gun control laws. Rep. Jeffrey Goley (D-Manchester) sponsored HB 1379, a 2014 bill that would have ensured that firearms records (e.g. application to carry a concealed firearm) are not subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know law.
Should New Hampshire reform gun regulations?
* Walker, Samuel. Sense and Nonsense about Crime, Drugs, and Communities. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011.