Misfire for bill that would fine cities and towns for regulating firearms

  • A Municipal and County Government Committee voted 18-2 on Tuesday to hold onto the bill, House Bill 1749, which prevents towns and cities from passing their own laws regulating firearms, until next year’s legislative session. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 1/30/2018 6:33:16 PM

A bill that would strike down local rules attempting to regulate firearms – and punish city and town officials for passing such ordinances – looks like a dud this legislative session.

A Municipal and County Government Committee voted, 18-2, Tuesday to hold onto the bill, House Bill 1749, until next year’s legislative session.

But a co-sponsor of the bill has already said he is considering an attempt on the House floor to revive the measure this year.

“I think the gun owners are the ones who will be upset,” Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell of Dunbarton told the Monitor. “There’s real importance in passing this bill given the overreaching regulations we’ve seen at the local towns.”

Hoell and other supporters of the bill point to existing New Hampshire law, RSA 159:26, which gives the state exclusive power to regulate firearms. That statute also bans cities and towns from trying to set their own rules.

But a couple of municipalities have put forward ordinances on firearms, which backers of the bill said forced the need for their legislation.

The proposal specifically mentions selectmen in Milford for banning target shooting on town property, as well as the school board in Lebanon, which voted to ban weapons on school property and at school events.

“What these municipalities are doing is against the law,” said Republican Rep. Frank McCarthy of Conway.

New Hampshire would benefit from a consistent set of rules for gun owners, lawmakers said.

“You don’t want a patchwork of laws throughout the state,” GOP Rep. Francis Gauthier of Claremont argued. “This is an issue that needs to be dealt with by the state so we have a comprehensive policy from one end of the state to another.”

Democratic Rep. Clyde Carson of Warner said the bill couldn’t be fixed.

“We have amendments that come at it from different directions, but we haven’t had any public hearings on those amendments,” he said.

With just two days left to take action on the bill, the panel’s chairman called for a vote to hold the bill back until the next legislative session.

Republican Rep. James Belanger of Hollis said he understood “the reluctance” of supporters to take such a move, but he vowed not to “ ignore this bill over the summer.”

“We will come up with a solution that’s hopefully acceptable to the committee ... and recommend it for future legislation,” Belanger said.

Hoell, who’s a board member of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, said he’s weighing an attempt to overturn the committee’s action from the House floor.

“I need to talk to the other gun groups in the state to see if they are interested in doing that,” he said. “There’s been numerous emails into the committee asking for this bill to be passed. It’s an important piece of legislation.”

The bill has divided a gun rights activists, a group that is normally unified on firearms legislation. Some Granite State gun rights supporters oppose the measure because it gives sole authority over regulating firearms to the state Legislature, at the expense of the executive and judicial branches.

The bill has grabbed national attention the past couple of weeks, which multiple committee members argued was another reason to delay action on the legislation.

“From all the ire and vitriol that this proposal has created, from my email account alone, we need to have this discussion openly and honestly and fairly,” Democratic Rep. Susan Treleaven of Dover said. “I think people misunderstand the reality of what’s in the law right now and they misunderstand what this bill might be trying to do, and we desperately need to clarify that.”

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