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N.H. Legislature may see a renewed fight over gun control in 2014

There was passionate debate over gun control this year in state capitols across the country. But not at the State House in Concord, where no major changes to New Hampshire’s gun laws were proposed in the aftermath of last December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

That will change in 2014. More than a dozen gun-related bills are in the works at the Legislature, including measures that would expand background checks before firearm purchases and ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines.

“We need some common-sense gun laws in this country,” said Rep. Elaine Andrews-Ahearn, a Democrat from Hampton Falls. “And we need to make sure that people who are not qualified and should not own weapons do not own weapons: people with mental disorders, criminal backgrounds – people who are likely to use guns in dangerous ways.”

But among leaders from both parties, there may be little appetite for a divisive debate over guns in an election year.

After all, this year’s bill to repeal the 2011 “stand your ground” self-defense law provoked a months-long backlash from gun-rights activists, and only narrowly passed the Democratic-controlled House before meeting a quick end in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“I think that there is a consensus in the Senate that folks’ constitutional rights under the Second Amendment should be protected,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican.

“I think we’ve got to walk before we run,” said House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, the Penacook Democrat who sponsored the stand-your-ground repeal. “Seeing the reluctance of the other body dealing with the repeal of stand your ground, I don’t think any bills . . . would have much of a chance in the Senate this session.”

Guns on the table

On Jan. 2, the House spent more than two hours debating whether to reinstate a decades-old ban on carrying deadly weapons in Representatives Hall. In the end, the new Democratic majority prevailed, and the rule that had been lifted in 2011 was reinstated on a 196-153 vote.

That was pretty much the Legislature’s last sustained debate on gun control in 2013. A handful of bills had been filed in the House – one banned pistols from being carried openly in public buildings, another made it legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit – but none went far. And while gun rights were often invoked during the debate over stand your ground, repeal advocates were adamant that the bill had nothing to do with guns.

The task of crafting a new two-year state budget took up much of the Legislature’s attention this year. And timing may have been an issue: The Dec. 14 slaying of six adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which sparked a national debate over gun violence, took place after the House’s filing deadline for 2013 bills, and less than a week before the Senate deadline.

In dozens of other states, by contrast, lawmakers took up bills this year on both sides of the gun-control debate. New restrictions became law in Colorado, New York and other states, while new laws expanding and protecting gun rights were enacted in a number of other states.

National politicians took up the issue, too. The U.S. Senate debated whether to expand the use of background checks for firearm purchases, but the measure was blocked in April by Republicans and a handful of Democrats.

On the agenda

But now the state budget is done, and the Legislature will begin the second year of its session in January. And when it does, gun control will be on the agenda.

More than a dozen legislative service requests – LSRs, or preliminary indicators of legislation to come – have already been filed for 2014 bills that deal with guns. Some seek new restrictions, while others seek broader protections.

One would make firearms records confidential and exempt from the state’s right-to-know law. Another would make it a crime to enforce any new federal laws that ban large ammunition magazines or certain types of weapons.

“It would be to override anything federal that they’re going to try to impose on New Hampshire because of mass shootings taking place around the country,” said Rep. Lenette Peterson, a Merrimack Republican and sponsor of the latter bill. “The mass shootings aren’t being done by legal gun owners, so why punish those who have them?”

On the other side, Sen. David Pierce is sponsoring an expansion of background checks that he said would mirror the so-called Manchin-Toomey proposal that was blocked in the U.S. Senate.

“I don’t think anybody would advocate for criminals and the mentally ill having firearms, running around in our neighborhoods. . . . It’s a sensible, middle-of-the-road proposal,” said Pierce, an Etna Democrat.

Andrews-Ahearn filed three LSRs dealing with guns. She said she probably won’t move forward with one, a bill establishing a gun registry, and instead will focus on proposals for expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

“I think a lot of people are looking at us as Democrats and saying, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything?’ ” Andrews-Ahearn said.

(Not) spoiling for a fight

Given the hot-button nature of gun control, it appears likely that both the House and Senate will see lively debates next year.

But that doesn’t mean any of the bills will become law.

“I don’t know that the House (does), and I don’t think the Senate has the appetite to move forward with that kind of legislation,” Shurtleff said. “It could be a futile effort.”

Polls have found wide support in New Hampshire for expanded background checks, but a split electorate on gun control in general. A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll this summer found 46 percent of residents favor stricter gun laws while 14 percent want less-strict laws and 37 percent want no changes; the poll, taken July 18-29, had a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

Opponents of gun control often have loud voices and deep pockets. In Colorado, Democrats this year enacted new restrictions on ammunition magazines and expanded background checks. But in September, voters recalled two of the state senators who voted for the measures – an effort backed by the National Rifle Association.

“New Hampshire has no additional appetite for gun-control measures. . . . If the Democrats would like to stay in office, they need to stop hammering on the gun rights,” said Rep. JR Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican and vocal gun-rights advocate.

Bradley said the Senate, with its 13-11 GOP majority, is unlikely to embrace gun control next year – with one possible exception. He said legislation addressing access to guns by the mentally ill “might get some traction.”

Under federal law, it’s illegal to sell a gun to someone who’s been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital or otherwise “adjudicated mentally defective.” But mental health records are confidential under New Hampshire law, and so aren’t made available during the background check process.

Legislation to fix that problem would be smaller than any sweeping measures to tighten or expand gun laws. But Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, may focus her attention next year on that limited goal.

“Our office has asked state agencies to evaluate and make recommendations for addressing New Hampshire-specific public safety challenges, and it is clear that one of the most pressing issues is that New Hampshire does not provide the background check system with information about individuals who should not be sold a firearm due to serious mental illness,” said Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments13

Any one who votes for guncontrol will be put on the list. http://crypticpunk.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/it-is-time-to-create-a-registry-of-all-people-that-want-to-ban-guns/

QUOTE "There was passionate debate over gun control this year in state capitols" "In a Gallup Poll released in the heart of the gun control debate last April (after months and month of hysterical coverage), only 4% of Americans saw gun control as a priority. What they were (and are) most concerned about is jobs, the deficit, and the overall economy. And yet…For nearly six-months the media ignore America´s priorities and obsessively, relentlessly, and shamefully pushed Congress to pass gun control." Investigating Obama Scandals Polls 7 Times Higher Than Gun Control. This liberal media is perpetuating this biased scam.

WHY DON'T WE WORRY ABOUT REAL PROBLEMS LIKE TREATING CRAZY PEOPLE WITH GUNS, NOT NORMAL PEOPLE THAT HAVE GUNS? GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, CRAZY PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE.

YOU ARE SO RIGHT! IT IS CRAZY PEOPLE THAT ARE ALLOWED GUNS THAT KILL PEOPLE!

Foolishness. The states that are passing so-called "assault weapons" bans and magazine bans are setting themselves up for expensive litigation, which will eventually eviscerate such laws. For those whose ideological blindness has rendered them clueless, the SCOTUS ruled in 1939 (U.S. v. Miller) that arms that are not in common use that have no reasonable relationship to the efficiency of a militia are not protected under the right. In doing so, the Court defined what arms ARE protected under the right., namely those in common use (i.e. so-called "assault weapons") that have a reasonable relationship to the efficiency of a militia (i.e. so-called "assault weapons"). The left skewed the Miller decision claiming that it limited the right to arms to state militias. It did not. It did not address the "individual right model" v. "collective right model", AT ALL. It emphasized that the Second Amendment must be interpreted and applied with a view toward protecting arms common to the public that also had military utility. "With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such [militia] forces, the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view." - United States v. Miller (No. 696) 26 F.Supp. 1002, reversed. "Miller stands only for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons . . . We therefore read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns. That accords with the historical understanding of the scope of the right, see Part III, infra.25" - DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed.

“And we need to make sure that people who are not qualified and should not own weapons do not own weapons: people with mental disorders, criminal backgrounds – people who are likely to use guns in dangerous ways.” **there are already laws on the books pertaining to owning firearms. we don't need more firearms control. Sandy Hook didn't happen because of someone owning them that shouldn't, it happened because a person killed his mother and stole her firearms that were otherwise properly stored. Mental health alone isn't an indicator of who shouldn't own firearms. I hear a lot of discussion of using 'common sense' but the ones bringing laws to the table for passage are NOT using common sense. Those areas that have the toughest gun laws are the least safe. I don't need to post proof here, if you have interest in reading that proof, use google.

You can call it hypocrisy if you like, GWTW, but the Democrats are NOT opposed to ever changing any law. They are merely opposed to changing GOOD laws (or at least, to changing laws which look good to Democrats.) Also, they believe in changing laws in an orderly fashion, using the established legislative process, without creating artificial crises.

Tell me Tommy, when did Congress vote to change Obamacare to allow large corporations a year break? Thats not a minor change to the law either. The Presidents job is to enforce the laws, not change them. |Correct me if I am wrong, but one of the proposals the republicans, you know..the legislature that actually makes the laws, (using the established legislative process, without creating artificial crises. ) sent Obama was a year break for all Americans. Flat out rejected. Thats hypocritical, dont you think?

Imagine that...democrats trying to change the recently passed "laws of the land"...cant touch Obamacare, oh no, but that "law of the land" nonsense goes out the window when it comes to the 2nd amendment.

That would be a false equivalency you are drawing - if one small section of one part of one governing body in NH decided to hold the state hostage to force a law to change - that would be the same as what's going on in Washington. What is happening in NH is lawmakers following the process to actually change laws as we have been doing for generations. It worries me that you can't see the difference.

TESHA you do realize that it is only 6 moderate democrat senators that are holding up the 100% level funding of every federal Dept? - Just 6 democrat senators could open up 100% of Government -there are currently 44 senators in favor of level funding . In addition there is a bill in the senate to STOP CONGRESS SALARIES when the debt ceiling is reached - those same 6 senators wont vote for that either - Now we know who is radical - NObama and the democrats

Forgive her Tesha, she missed the logical fallacy lecture.

That why all the other states in the nation are completely bankrupt...Now it is quite obvious the the liberals are bound and determined to do the same here and in Wisconsin to the only 2 states in the nation that have a surplus...They are going to follow the other liberal politicians from the bankrupt states right down the road of bankruptcy... well after the last election I do see hundreds of properties have hit the realestate market (PROPERTY OWNING TAXPAYERS) bailing out before it hits...Just drive around all the lakes,,,and out in the country towns and look at all the listings...Everybody is heading far south and west...bailing out before the change..don't blame them...

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