- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - People who can legally own a gun in New Hampshire would be able to carry their firearm out of sight without having to get a separate license under a bill proposed by three Republican lawmakers, putting a renewed focus on the state’s power to regulate gun rights.

The sponsors of the so-called “constitutional carry” bill say it would make New Hampshire safer, but several police officers argued during a Thursday hearing that the change would make it easier for dangerous or unstable people to carry concealed guns.

New Hampshire law requires gun owners to obtain a separate license from their local law enforcement officials if they want to carry the firearm concealed, in a holster under a coat, for example. The new law would eliminate the licensing requirement, allowing anyone who can legally purchase a gun to carry it out in the open or concealed.

“(This bill) doesn’t expand the number of people that are legally entitled to carry weapons, nor does it expand the number of weapons that are already legal in the state,” said Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who is the bill’s prime sponsor.

New Hampshire doesn’t track the number of gun licenses issued each year, said JR Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican who also is a sponsor of the bill.

Eliminating the additional license is estimated to cost the state $900,000 in fees.

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Wyoming and Vermont all have a “constitutional carry” law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Vermont has a low level of crime, which the bill’s supporters say is linked to the state’s participation in constitutional carry.

Opponents of the bill say there is a clear difference between carrying a gun openly and concealing one.

“It gives an element of surprise,” said Tuftonboro Police Chief Andrew Shagoury, who spoke at Thursday’s hearing on behalf of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

Federal law prohibits felons, fugitives, people with mental illness, people who have been convicted of domestic violence or drug addicts from purchasing guns. But the permitting process gives police officers an added layer of discretion over who should be able to carry their guns out of sight. An officer, for example, could deny a concealed carry license to someone who has gotten into a bar fight or been repeatedly accused of domestic violence but never convicted, Shagoury said.

“Here’s the guy who goes out to the bar on Friday nights, gets hammered and he gets into fights - he’s not a felon,” Shagoury said. “He’s going to be able to get a concealed weapon. I would say this guy shows poor discretion.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will make a recommendation on whether to pass the bill before sending it to the Senate floor.

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