CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire’s gun laws are likely to be the center of debate next week as Gov. Maggie Hassan takes action on a bill that would make it easier for people to carry hidden guns. She has said she’ll veto it.
The legislation passed the Republican-led Legislature this year and landed on Hassan’s desk this week, giving her five days to act.
A veto is sure to draw fire from pro-gun groups that have been rallying support for the bill. Together, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition and Women’s Defense League organized the delivery of more than 1,500 petitions in support of the bill to Hassan’s desk, Republican state Rep. JR Hoell said. But Hassan has also received thousands of communications from people seeking a veto, said her spokesman, William Hinkle. The New Hampshire chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America met with Hassan this year on the morning she stated her intent to veto.
Existing state law allows for anyone who can legally purchase a gun to carry it openly. But to carry a gun concealed, the person must receive a license from local law enforcement or town officials. This bill would repeal the licensing requirement, effectively allowing anyone who can own a gun under state and federal law to carry it hidden, such as in a purse or beneath a jacket.
When determining whether to hand out licenses, the law allows police to determine whether someone is “suitable” to carry a concealed gun. But the Legislature has never defined suitable, leaving the term open to interpretation. Police officers could, for example, deny people a license if they have been caught driving drunk or repeatedly get in bar fights. The license denial can’t prevent someone who is legally allowed to own a gun to carry it openly, and any license denial can be appealed.
Supporters of the bill say it’s this discretion that makes existing law unfair because a police officer could base a denial on their own biases. They also say removing the licensing requirement will make the state safer by allowing more people to protect themselves.
“Those who are going to carry and illegally be armed aren’t going to worry about the license anyway,” said Hoell, a sponsor of the bill.
But people who want to keep the licensing requirement say it’s a necessary layer of protection.
“We currently have in place a line of defenses that helps ensure dangerous people are not carrying guns on New Hampshire streets,” Clai Lasher-Sommers, a gun violence survivor from New Hampshire, said in a statement after the Legislature passed the bill.
Most states require a permit or license to carry concealed firearms. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Vermont and Wyoming do not. Maine could soon join the list if Republican Gov. Paul LePage signs a bill now on his desk to remove the licensing requirement.
If Hassan vetoes the bill as expected, the Legislature could override it with two-thirds support, a threshold that will be difficult to meet.
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