NH House takes conflicting actions on guns, state rights

·3 min read

Jun. 3—BEDFORD — The House of Representatives took conflicting actions on gun rights Thursday, voting to prevent state and local cops from enforcing any new federal gun control measures while ceding to the Biden administration the management of criminal background checks to buy a handgun.

State Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, said the state's "Gun Line" imposes an extra layer of regulation on those seeking to buy a handgun.

In the past, this led to significant delays which until recently lasted for up to several months, he said.

"Gun buyers are tired of having a handgun wait period here in New Hampshire," Burt said.

The New Hampshire State Police "Gun Line" has managed background checks in New Hampshire since 1998, after the federal Brady Act mandated background checks nationwide for handguns bought at firearm stores.

Under the proposed bill (SB 141), the FBI would handle the checks on all handgun purchases here through the National Information Criminal Background System (NICS).

Currently, 36 states defer these checks to the feds, including all New England states except New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright, D-Nashua, said the state system checks records that the federal NICS system does not such as child protection, bail and restraining orders.

She said if there is no date of birth known about the applicant, the federal system can't search its own database.

Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover, said while there were delays with the state background system during the pandemic, those were curtailed as the Department of Safety has deployed more staff to erase the backlog.

Gun lobby on both sides of issue

The state's gun lobby groups had been split over the matter.

The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition opposed it, while Gun Owners of New Hampshire, the National Rifle Association and the National Sports Shooting Foundation supported it.

While the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted, 15-6, to kill this bill, not a single House Republican spoke for it during the debate.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, urged the House to pass it.

A move to table the bill or set it aside barely failed, 191-186.

The House then voted to pass it, 197-180.

The state's gun lobby was clearly unified in approving legislation (SB 154) to protest the prospect of gun control legislation passing the Congress and being signed by President Joe Biden.

Supporters maintained this open defiance of a federal law was not a violation of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution that holds a state law cannot preempt a federal one.

State Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said the U.S. Supreme Court had already issued decisions in the past that allowed states to refuse to enforce earlier gun control laws.

"This creates a policy that the state of New Hampshire will not enforce federal orders that otherwise restrict firearms," Abbas said.

Rep. David Manuse, D-Portsmouth, said the "epidemic" of gun violence is one the nation must confront even as it gets control of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is driving a wedge between our state, local and federal government when it comes to addressing incidents of gun violence," Manuse said.

The House passed this bill, 199-177.

The measure now goes back to the State Senate for review of its amendment. The Senate-passed bill had only applied to Biden-issued executive orders.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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