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As gun safety deal takes shape in Congress, N.H. plan to block federal laws moves ahead

The New Hampshire House of Representatives, May 26, 2022
Dan Tuohy
The New Hampshire House of Representatives, May 26, 2022

As a potential bipartisan plan to tighten federal gun safety standards takes shape in Washington, a bill pushed by Republican lawmakers in Concord to bar New Hampshire from enforcing any new federal gun limits is heading to the governor.

When it was drafted and debated, this bill’s backers often invoked the possibility of President Joe Biden taking executive action on guns.

That hasn’t happened, but the possibility of a deal on a gun package emerging from Capitol Hill has put the spotlight back on the bill, which passed the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year and is headed to Gov. Chris Sununu for his approval.

"If Congress decides to send some of their fruity ideas up here, we'll be prepared to say, 'No thank you very much. Keep those in Washington where they belong,'" Republican House Majority Leader Jason Osborne told WMUR Sunday.

Once the bill reaches Sununu’s desk, he has five days to either sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. So far Sununu has steered clear of taking any position on this bill, and his office didn’t respond Monday to requests for comment.

Earlier this month, after a shooting in Uvalde, Texas killed 19 students and two teachers, Sununu was asked repeatedly whether he sees any room for tighter firearms laws. Sununu expressed satisfaction with current state gun policy.

“We’re not looking to make any changes,” Sununu said.

Loosening state gun laws has been a priority in recent years for Republicans in Concord, including Sununu. The first bill Sununu signed into law, back in 2017, eliminated the license requirement to carry a concealed weapon.

A year later, after the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school, Sununu defended New Hampshire’s approach to regulating guns. But he also said if fresh limits on guns were to be set, it should be done at the federal level.

While the trajectory of the U.S. Senate’s as yet unwritten gun bill isn’t clear, negotiators have laid out its core policies.

They include allowing authorities to review juvenile criminal and mental health records for gun buyers under 21. The proposal would use federal money to encourage states to enact "red flag" laws to make it easier for judges to take guns from potentially dangerous people.

The bill would also increase penalties for illegal gun purchases made by straw buyers, boost federal funding to help states pay for school safety and mental health resources, and it would close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by no longer allowing domestic abusers – not married to their victims – continued access to guns.

Some of these policies are already on the books in other states, but as the top Republican in the New Hampshire House sees it, they would be a step in the wrong direction for New Hampshire, which hasn’t seen the mass shooting incidents other states have.

“We don’t have that problem here. So I might suggest that some of those other states look at how we do things here and maybe follow our lead,” Osborne told WMUR.

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