CONCORD, N.H. — Senate Bill 12, a bill ending the permit requirement to carry concealed guns in New Hampshire, will allow sex offenders and children to carry certain firearms concealed if signed by Gov. Chris Sununu, according to the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.
In a statement, the Association argued that the bill's choice of the word "possession" would circumvent laws that prevent the sale of firearms to minors, in addition to allowing them to carry concealed.
"The bill says a license will have to be issued to an applicant who is not prohibited by New Hampshire or federal statute from 'possessing a firearm,'" the statement read.
"Federal law, 18 USC 922(x) (2) (a), states the minimum age to 'possess' applies only to 'handguns' not 'firearms.' The difference in the word used matters. Passing this bill will allow minors to carry loaded guns concealed and get licenses allowing them to carry. "
That distinction is crucial, according to the Association's First Vice-President Chief Andy Shagoury. A minor cannot purchase a firearm per federal statutes, but there is little way of knowing whether a 16-year-old pulled over with a loaded shotgun in his car purchased it, or was given it as a birthday present.
"If you illegally obtained it somehow — technically we could say, we could try to investigate how you got it, did someone else buy it for you," Shagoury explained. "If we found a kid with a gun, with no idea how they got it, technically it'd be legal," he said.
"New Hampshire has no law stating the minimum age to 'possess' a firearm, prohibits verifying the person by fingerprints and allows carrying on school property," the statement added.
Without the permitting process, Shagoury added, sex offenders who have committed sexual assault or stalked someone, both misdemeanor offenses, will be able to carry concealed as well.
"Sex offenders will be able to carry — sexual assault is a misdemeanor, and it is not a federal or state preclusion from possessing a firearm. Stalking is another one that is a misdemeanor that will not preclude federal statute," he said.
The loss of discretion for local chiefs was also an issue, brought up often in the debate over the bill, with Shagoury pointing to the broad empowerment of violent sex offenders to carry concealed should the bill be signed.
"There are a whole bunch of violent misdemeanors," Shagoury said on the phone. "A medical marijuana patient would be denied a license, but the person who drinks every Friday night at the bar would (not be) because it would most likely be misdemeanor or violation level assault."
The Association said it did attempt to persuade the sponsors of the bill, including State Sen. Jeb Bradley, the primary sponsor, and local senators Chuck Morse, Regina Birdsell and Sharon Carson, to alter the language, but to no avail. The senators did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
"We approached first Senator Bradley, trying to get some changes. He tried to approach some other people that were proponents, and (they) decided that there were no changes that they could agree to," he added.
"We submitted written testimony at the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and they voted on it immediately afterwards, so they couldn't have read the material."
A motion to reconsider the passage of the bill failed on a voice vote, limiting reconsideration of the bill until next year, although amendments to bills currently in the pipeline could still have an impact on the language of the law once signed.
Republican State Rep. Mark Pearson, of Hampstead, said the language of a bill can still be corrected.
“Sometimes after a bill is passed into law, people, sometimes even including the bill’s original sponsors, realize a word or two was inadvertently mis-chosen or else left out," Pearson said.
"Such technical and minor errors can be corrected without changing what the bill was trying to accomplish. If indeed the chiefs identified a word or two that might lead to unintended consequences, the legislature can easily fix the problem.”
The Association is urging supporters to call the governor's office to oppose the bill as part of its statement.
"We doubt most citizens and responsible gun owners agree with children and violent criminals carrying loaded guns," the statement said. "We would suggest people immediately call the governor’s office to stop this dangerous bill."
"I think a lot of people thought the concept is great," Shagoury said. "But they don't think of everything that goes with it. There's a lot to it, maybe, beyond what they realized."