School shooting influences debate on N.H. gun control proposals

  • AR-15 style rifles made by Battle Rifle Co., a gunmaker in Webster, Texas, are on display in its retail shop in March. AP file

Associated Press
Published: 2/25/2018 6:27:48 PM

The deadly shooting at a Florida high school came well after the deadlines to file new legislation in New Hampshire, but it is influencing debate on previously introduced bills and has spurred one lawmaker’s long-shot attempt to bring forward new proposals.

At the end of Thursday’s House session, Rep. Lee Oxenham, a Democrat from Plainfield, implored her colleagues to suspend the rules and consider new legislation.

“Now is the time to prioritize the protection of our children, our schools, our communities and our democratic system,” she said.

Oxenham is working on a bill that would ban the possession or sale of semi-automatic or other military-style firearms by or to anyone under 21 years of age. But she can’t even officially draft it without permission from the House Rules Committee, which can waive deadlines based on compelling needs or unforeseen events. In October, the committee blocked an attempt to file gun control legislation after a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

In an interview Friday, Oxenham said her ideal bill would ban all assault weapons, but she realizes that would never pass. She said she also wants to propose a ban on large-capacity gun magazines, but also recognizes just filing a bill could be a challenge.

“Circumstances have changed, so one could hope they would rethink their stance,” she said. “I’m going to press ahead and continue to explore every avenue.”

Both the House and Senate, meanwhile, are considering numerous other bills related to guns, some seeking to expand gun rights and others aimed at imposing restrictions.

A Senate bill would give local school boards the power to prohibit guns in designated safe school zones, while the House voted earlier this month to further study a bill that would punish such communities with $500 fines. While the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school, New Hampshire law gives the state Legislature the sole authority to regulate guns, which has created some confusion, as some communities have created gun-free zones on town- or school-owned property.

Sen. Martha Hennessey, a Democrat from Hanover, didn’t mention the shooting in Parkland, Fla., when she amended the Senate bill Thursday, but it clearly was on her mind when she expressed frustration that it was sent to a committee rather than voted on that day.

“I am disappointed we are not addressing this issue faster and sooner, because in the meantime, children are dying,” she said.

The Senate previously voted to further study a proposal to ban weapon devices known as bump stocks that allow weapons to be fired at dramatically faster rates, while a House bill that would allow landlords to prohibit tenants from possessing guns remains in committee.

The House has killed three gun-related bills, including one that would have prohibited the open carrying of guns in any public building, hospitals, bars, polling places, houses of worship and entertainment venues with more than 5,000 seats. Another would have allowed guns to be fired in the compact part of a town or city with permission from abutting property owners, instead of police, while the third would have allowed guns to be carried on public college and university campuses.

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