N.H. House defeats bill to expand gun background checks
Rebecca Harrison, of Rye, along with members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, leans in from the gallery and waits for a vote as legislators met at the State House in Concord on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 to vote on House Bill 1589. The bill would expand background checks for gun sales, requiring private sellers use licensed firearm dealers who must do background checks on prospective buyers under federal law.
JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff
Members of New Hampshire's Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, congregate outside the gallery after the house voted against House Bill 1589 which would expand background checks for gun sales. The bill would require that private sellers use licensed firearm dealers who must do background checks on prospective buyers under federal law. The house took up the bill along with several others at the State House on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff
House members killed a bill to expand background checks for gun sales yesterday after two hours of debate and maneuvers to first water down the bill before voting against it outright.
“I believe this is an attempt to solve a problem that is nonexistent in New Hampshire,” House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, told his colleagues.
The bill, sponsored by eight Democrats, would have expanded background checks to commercial gun sales, meaning sales or transfers at gun shows or in response to advertisements, and would’ve required people without licenses to sell guns to make transactions through dealers. Private sales between people who know each other wouldn’t have been subject to this requirement.
Under federal law, felons, people under domestic violence restraining orders, fugitives, drug addicts and the dangerously mentally ill cannot buy guns. Supporters of this bill say expanded background checks would help prevent individuals in those categories from obtaining weapons.
“It’s not unlike the concept of requiring anyone who wishes to fly (to go) through a security screening,” said Rep. Chris Muns, a Hampton Democrat.
But opponents argued the bill would put more restrictions on law-abiding gun owners while doing little to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
“If a criminal wants you, they’re going to get you, whether it be with a gun or a knife,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican. “But let’s not make criminals out of our citizens here in New Hampshire.”
Early in the debate, opponents successfully amended the bill, stripping it of language to expand background checks and instead making it a bill to create a committee to study New Hampshire’s existing gun laws. This change passed on a 177-175 vote, with Rep. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton being the only Republican to vote against it.
Supporters of the study said New Hampshire does not have a gun problem, and studying the current laws would give lawmakers a better idea of what pieces of state law work well.
“New Hampshire stats on violent crime are some of the lowest in the nation,” said Rep. Laura Jones, a Rochester Republican. “Is that because of our current laws as they stand now? And if (it is), we want to tread very lightly before we take this momentous step of changing them.”
But the House ultimately voted, 242-118, to kill the bill with this amendment, too, meaning a defeat for establishing a committee to study New Hampshire’s existing laws and for expanding background checks. A background check bill would have faced difficulty in the Republican-led Senate.
Another background check-related bill filed this session is a Senate measure to prevent anyone judged mentally incompetent by a court from buying a gun.
Throughout the House’s two-hour debate, Rep. Edward Butler, a Hart’s Location Democrat, urged his colleagues to give the bill the fair and full airing their constituents deserved, even if they did not support expanding background checks.
“They want, I believe, a vote up or down after a full-throated debate,” he said.
Dozens of supporters and opponents of background checks filled the gallery to listen to the debate, wearing yellow badges indicating their position on the bill.
Judy Aron, a South Acworth resident against expanded background checks, said the bill would incrementally diminish gun owners’ rights and was pushed by out-of-state interests.
“We don’t have a gun problem here in New Hampshire,” she said.
But women from New Hampshire’s chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America were disappointed by the House’s votes.
“We felt this is a modest bill, (a) small but important step,” said Janet Groat of Portsmouth.
But, Groat said, the group will keep trying to increase momentum for gun control by building membership and developing an agenda.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)