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N.H. Police Chief Warns Gun Bill Headed For Gov. Sununu's Desk Could Compromise Public Safety

Rick via Flickr/CC

Update: Governor Sununu signed this bill earlier today, Feb. 22,2017. 



N.H. is heading with seeming inevitability toward joining the states that do not require a special permit to carry a concealed weapon. Governor Sununu is expected to sign SB12, which has passed both the Senate and the House, mostly along party lines.


Similar bills have failed in the past. Former Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan twice vetoed similar efforts.  


Supporters of repealing the permit requirement say local officials too often deny permits.


“The vetting process for license to carry is very broken. Innocent people, even on renewals, are being denied," said Republican Rep. JR Hoell, of Dunbarton,  on The Exchange.  "And the rate is high enough, and the cost is substantial enough, that it's creating real problems. We've come to the legislature, as gun owners, a number of times and said, can we fix this?”


Hoell points to Vermont, which has never had a permit process, and to Maine, which he says has not seen a drastic rise in crime after repealing its concealed carry law – called “constitutional carry” by gun-rights groups.


But Tuftonboro Police Chief Chief Andrew Shagoury said comparing the two states is misleading because Maine has a number of restrictions – on where you can carry guns, for instance – that New Hampshire does not have.


Shagoury is first vice president with the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police, which has called SB12 “dangerous,” in part because it removes the ability of police to deny a permit to someone they deem as dangerous.


“What we're talking about in SB12 is not what Maine has,” Shagoury said. “In Maine it's against the law to carry a concealed weapon in a bar, and it's against the law to be intoxicated, it's actually a crime to do those things, and you lose your license if you do those things.”


“There's far more restrictions in almost every other state than New Hampshire," he said. "You can't carry them in schools, you have to submit fingerprints, you have to show training, suitability, ability, to get your license. None of that is in SB12 or in New Hampshire. Not that we advocated any of that, but I'm just saying, it's an apples to oranges comparison to say what Maine has and what we have."





  • Bob Clegg, President of Pro-Gun New Hampshire, former state senator.
  • Renny Cushing, Democratic Representative from Hampton. He serves on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
  • JR Hoell, Republican Representative from Dunbarton. He is Corporate Secretary of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition.
  • Andrew Shagoury, Tuftonboro Police Chief and First Vice President with the NH Association of Chiefs of Police.

Q: Was there a time when guns were part of people's lives but not part of the political discussion in NH?

Clegg:  When I was a kid it was nothing to go to school with a shotgun in your car because you went bird hunting before you went to school and you had every intention of going bird hunting when you left school. They were hanging in your pickup trucks...It wasn't an issue for anybody. At that time, it was just an accepted part of life. But it was nothing unusual because your father taught you how to use one or in some cases your mother. So it wasn't always a scary thing.

Q: What changed?

Clegg: Some people decided not to take on the culture of the state of New Hampshire and just decided, let's make it a big, scary thing. Don't forget, it's a big money maker, being afraid of guns. The state will tell you they make a million dollars a year off people who apply for licenses.

Cushing: I think the issue is not guns, so much as gun violence and violence prevention. I think that we've seen changes in technology, and I think we've seen an escalation of gun violence in different settings, different circumstances. In the past 10 or 15 years, it’s become a very hot button political debate in New Hampshire, and nationally. Unfortunately, because it's become such a polarized debate, it becomes difficult for people to find common ground.

A lot more interpersonal violence takes place. I think people on the one hand are afraid of being victims of violence. There's a difference between our traditional gun culture, which represents hunting and self-defense, and thinking that everybody should have a military assault style weapon, which is not a defensive mechanism, but it's something that people objectively would look at and say the sole purpose of this is to kill people. --Rep. Renny Cushing


Clegg:  When a chief denies you a permit and you have to go to court, you need to hire a lawyer. So you're starting at $5,000 all the way up to $15,000. Not a lot of people have that kind of money to take from their family just to get the rights that the Constitution says they have. It's not fair, but it's very easy if you don't like somebody to say, no I don't think you're suitable.

Why don't we license free speech?  Can you image in if we got $10 from everybody who marched in Concord the other day? Ten bucks a piece for the right to speak. And if I don't like what you say, I’ll turn you in and maybe I can have your right to free speech revoked and then I’ll feel better. It's the same thing.

Shagoury: Right now, we can say, I've dealt with this person, and they’re very dangerous, and they're mentally distressed, and they've acted in dangerous ways. We can deny them a permit to carry concealed.

With rights come responsibilities.  And our New Hampshire Constitution explains -- I believe it’s Article 3 -- that as we become a civilized society, sometimes rights aren’t over-expanding into everywhere.  And when we start talking about this, sometimes it gets polarizing. People don’t see the middle of it.

Exchange listener, Terry, from Gilmanton:

My husband and I are both gun owners for hunting. We don’t do it much anymore. He’s a retired police officer and I wish people would just stop and think. Do they feel more safe as we loosen up the very few restrictions we have. I know I don’t. We appreciate the vetting by our local police for concealed carry permits. I firmly believe that no one is going to be safer having more guns, particularly in congested areas. People with guns that can help in a situation -- if this is what the concern is -- you need to have situational awareness and training, and that’s why we have law enforcement for most of these situation.

Cushing:  In New Hampshire, over half the homicides and 90 percent of the murder-suicides are related to domestic violence. We know there are circumstances where crimes of passion take place involving domestic violence. And one of the things we try to do in New Hampshire is make sure that those who have demonstrated a propensity toward violence don't get easy access to firearms. I think we all recognize that guns don’t kill people. People with guns end up killing people, and our challenge is to make sure that people who are a threat to others don't have easy access to firearms.

Hoell:  We shouldn't craft a society around someone's fear. At the end of the day my ability to protect myself under Article 2 but also under Article 3 is important.  I'm not going to give up my right under Article 3. I would not voluntarily give that away unless I gained something that was more valuable in society.  

The criminal element is not going to ask for a license anyway. If they're going to commit havoc or a violent crime, they're just going to go ahead and they're not going to get permission from the chief. 

Exchange listener, Bob, in Nashua:

I would be in favor of controls that actually help put criminals behind bars or get guns out of the hands of gang members and criminals. But the legislation being proffered merely gives the “illusion” of security. Limiting what law-abiding folks can do and taking guns from them so they cannot protect their family only serves political agendas and actually makes us less safe. The grim reality is that the bad guys have a lot of guns, and very deadly guns. So either I can leave my family at their mercy, or I can own and carry a gun. And by the way, I am in favor of good background checks and even proof of training, but not limiting gun ownership (except for criminals and mentally ill).

Shagoury; The argument is that criminals are going to break the law anyway….I guess by that logic we should get rid of drivers' licenses, too, because they’re also interfering with people’s rights to travel. I guess you have to ask yourself, what is a law, what is the purpose of a law. Laws are about setting a floor for what conduct our civilized society expects of our citizens.


Federal law prohibits people who have been committed to a mental institution or “adjudicated as a mental defective” to purchase a gun. But states are not required to submit those records to a federal background check system. New Hampshire is one of just a few states that does not report mental health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. Efforts in the legislature to require such reporting have failed.  

Cushing: I’m concerned about stigmatizing people with mental illness…We’re trying to figure out a way to prevent those people who manifestly have mental health issues such that they’re a threat either to themselves or others from getting easy access to a firearm. What we need to ask in New Hampshire is why are there only two people on the list who have a mental illness such that they constitute a threat to others.

The issue is this has to be more than a one-way door and until that sticks, and I believe that’s going to take some changes at the federal level, going forward is a bad idea because you may have somebody who for a short period of time is facing a strong emotional difficulty and they may be suicidal, so then we take away their rights forever? That seems like an unfair consequence. -- Rep. JR Hoell

Shagoury: Seems almost every other state can address this. I don’t know why New Hampshire can’t. We’re one of five states with less than 10 people reported…If 40 other states can fix this, I don’t know why NH can’t.

Cushing: I think this points to the need for New Hampshire to close the backgrounds check, the gun-show loophole, so that people who are a threat to others don’t have easy access to firearms.

Clegg:  When I go to a gun show, most of those people are dealers and not only that -- nobody is going to take the responsibility of selling you a gun and not knowing you. If  you want to buy a gun from somebody, and they’re not quite sure who you are but you have references, if you have a concealed carry license, they will typically take that as ID that you have been deemed somebody able to carry a gun. But I’ve been to I don’t know how many guns shows, and I’ve never had somebody say, yeah, just give me the cash, you can leave.

Producer's Note: Some say the so-called gun-show loophole is more aptly named the "private-sale loophole" or "background-check loophole."  For more on that, read this by Politifact.

How much of current gun politics is caused by the media/social media? If a shooting happens in a different state we will hear about it within the hour. So even though violent crimes are at one of the lowest rates in history, it would appear to me that the reporting of violent crimes has steadily increased. This distortion between the actual number of violent incidents and reporting of these incidents creates the perception that violent crimes occur more frequently (because we hear about it all the time). It's no wonder if we are constantly bombarded with violent crime events that this reduces our social capital making us fear for our lives all the time and thus want to purchase a firearm for defense. --Anonymous Exchange listener.

To hear the entire Exchange show on Gun Rights And Restrictions, listen here



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