Constitutional amendment would ban future firearms restrictions in the state

  • Members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee met to hear bills expanding gun rights, Wednesday, Feb 10, 2021.

Monitor staff
Published: 2/10/2021 9:27:25 PM

The New Hampshire House is considering recommending a constitutional amendment that would prevent future state laws from restricting firearm ownership, one of a series of gun rights bills proposed this year.

The proposal, officially called Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 8 would prevent the Legislature from passing any law “restricting the right to own, carry, or use firearms or firearm accessories.”

But some gun rights groups say that the amendment needs to be workshopped, and could have unintended consequences for firearms use in the state.

New Hampshire’s constitution already contains a version of the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, which states: “All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the State.”

This legislation would add two following sentences. “The Legislature shall enact no law that limits the right of a person to own, carry, or use firearms or firearm accessories in any manner that would create a greater burden than that in federal law,” the amendment states. “Any federal law that infringes upon rights guaranteed in this New Hampshire Constitution shall be unenforceable by New Hampshire law enforcement.”

Rep. Terry Roy, the bill’s sponsor, said the amendment was intended to protect firearm rights, and stop the see-sawing of gun legislation between Republican and Democratic legislatures.

“The reason I’m introducing this bill is because I’ve heard from many constituents that they are frankly a little tired of every two years, or four years, or whatever it may be, that power shifts in the State House, and they are concerned about having their rights infringed upon based on whatever political winds are blowing in Concord,” said Roy, a Deerfield Republican.

The constitutional amendment would recognize the federal government’s ability to pass its own firearms restrictions, Roy said, but it would prevent local and state law enforcement from enforcing it. Those new restrictions could only be enforced by federal agents, Roy added.

Roy said he would prefer the amendment to prevent any federal firearms laws from taking jurisdiction, but thought that it wouldn’t be constitutional.

The amendment comes as part of a broader effort by gun rights organizations to create “Second Amendment sanctuary states” – states and jurisdictions with laws that reject enforcement of potential federal gun control measures such as magazine limitations, universal background checks, and red flag laws. Currently, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas and Wyoming have passed such laws, as have a number of individual counties in the West and the Appalachian South.

Supporters of gun control came out in opposition to the amendment, which they called an unfair attempt to limit the ability of the Legislature to regulate firearms.

“In terms of public policy, it’s hard to think of a worse idea than adopting a blanket prohibition on any type of measure whatsoever that might include safety with regard to firearms, or frankly anything else,” said Tracy Hahn-Burkett, a member of the Kent Street Coalition, a left-leaning Concord-based advocacy group.

“I do understand the frustration with having to revisit every two years a certain body of law, and frankly it’s a frustration that we share frequently,” she added. “But that is the legislative process, and nobody understands that better than all of you sitting as a legislative body.”

Leonard Korn, a doctor representing the New Hampshire Medical Society, opposed the amendment too, referring to studies indicating that the United States has the highest rate of gun violence among developed democracy. Firearm regulations are important to address a rising number of suicides in the state, Korn argued.

“Proponents of this amendment state that they are concerned regarding civil rights,” he said. “However the civil right of being alive and safe in our state, safe to remain alive, safe to vote, safe to breathe, safe from being shot, is clearly more necessary than focusing only on having more guns everywhere.”

Gun rights groups, meanwhile, said they also had qualms with the wording, even if they supported its intention.

J.R. Hoell and Dan Itse, two former state representatives involved in firearm rights advocacy, pointed to two pieces of the proposed amendment they say are contradictory.

In the first sentence, the amendment prevents the Legislature from enacting laws “that would create a greater burden than that in federal law,” the representatives noted – which made the federal law the standard. Yet in the second sentence, the amendment would make those federal laws “unenforceable by New Hampshire law enforcement.”

Itse and Hoell said they were working on a rewrite to the amendment that could address those concerns while still making the Granite State a Second Amendment sanctuary state. 

Still, Itse argued that additional regulations were not the solution to stemming gun violence in the states.

“You have to remember: Laws do not prevent crime. Laws punish crime,” he said. “Criminals commit crime, and they will do so regardless. What you need to maintain is the ability to punish those who commit acts of injustice upon others.”

In order for the constitutional amendment to pass, it requires a 60% majority in the House and Senate, and then a majority vote in a statewide referendum during the next statewide election – often a high bar in the state.

The committee also heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would stipulate that displaying firearms would not constitute reckless endangerment.

House Bill 195 would create an exception to New Hampshire’s reckless endangerment law, which covers the reckless engagement in “conduct which places or may place another in danger of serious bodily injury.” Under the bill, simply displaying a firearm would not constitute reckless endangerment.

Supporters said the bill would allow people to deescalate a confrontation by revealing they had a firearm on their person. And they said it would prevent those who demonstrate that they are carrying as a means of self defense from facing criminal sanctions for doing that.

Critics countered the bill would lead to more hostility and violence in interactions with someone who was armed – and would allow someone armed to implicitly intimidate others by showing they were carrying a weapon.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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