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Friday, January 27, 2012

Security officials argue against NH House bill that would allow guns on campus

CONCORD – Banning guns on college campuses violates the Constitutional right to bear arms, argued those who came out Thursday to support legislation lifting such bans at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The bill, HB 334, has been passed by the House and went before a state Senate panel Thursday. The legislation would prevent banning gun and knife possession on all public property and any private parcel supported with government dollars, such as the Verizon Center in Manchester.

Gun rights advocates have charged that college administrators thumbed their noses at the Second Amendment by adopting gun bans. They maintain that the bans leave students and employees less safe to attackers, using the shooting rampage that occurred on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 as an example.

‘’The Constitution at its heart says everybody has a right to defend themselves,’’ said James Wheeler, of Milford, a leader in the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition. “Unelected bureaucrats are making rules in violation of a law that was passed. That is unjust, and it is unconstitutional.”

Daniel Pelletier, director of security at Nashua Community College, said guns and college students should not mix on campuses where there can be abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs.

Having untrained citizens with guns only heightens the risk, as law enforcement officers are trained to treat anyone bearing a weapon as a potential threat, Pelletier said.

“College students drawing guns in the midst of confusion or crisis increases the danger,” said Pelletier, a 25-year lawman who retired as a detective sergeant with the Derry Police Department.

Keene State College Director of Security Amanda Warman spoke of a 21-year-old college student named Mike who shot his friend and then himself over a drunken argument about a BB gun 18 days after the Virginia Tech tragedy.

“We are talking about teenagers away from their home unfortunately exposed to drinking and partying,’’ Warman said. “Adding firearms to this mix is definitely a dangerous mistake.”

Firearms Coalition President John Evans called such stories “template garbage.”

University System of New Hampshire Chancellor Edward MacKay said allowing guns to be freely held at two- and four-year colleges may increase the suicide rate and put law enforcement officers at risk.

“Adding deadly weapons into a culture where impetuous behavior can sometimes take place is, in my opinion, unwise,” MacKay said. “College years are among the most volatile periods in a person’s life, and if guns are present it is far more likely there will be incidents on campuses.”

Rep. Elaine Swinford, R-Barnstead, said those brought up in a gun-owning culture would pose no threat in the dorms or out on campus.

“We have a lot of students from New Hampshire,’’ Swinford said. “Most of them have grown up around firearms all their lives. They have great respect for them. They would not use them wrongly.”

Gun Owners of New Hampshire advocate Christopher Leone said the bill merely reinforced what gun advocates wanted, which was to only permit the Legislature to limit gun use on public property.

“It’s very clear, and that’s the way it should be,” Leone said. “This is the peoples’ house, and people can voice their opinions through hearings like this to their own representatives.”

Last year, the House-Senate Facilities Committee ended a Democratically created ban to permit the public to carry concealed weapons in the State House and adjacent buildings.

Likewise, the House changed its rules of 40 years to permit gun possession on the floor where representatives sit and in the gallery where the public watches the proceedings.

University of New Hampshire Police Chief Paul Dean said college campuses should be places where young, vulnerable students can go without fear of gun violence.

“There is no credible evidence or statistical evidence that laws allowing permissive concealed weapon possession reduces crime,” Dean said.

The Senate panel heard two related bills to permit someone to carry a loaded gun or crossbow in a car or truck, HB 194, and to end a ban on carrying weapons in court, HB 536.

Gov. John Lynch has called the legislation a collective threat to public safety and vowed to veto each of the bills if they reach his desk.

The Senate panel is recommending shipping this and two related gun rights bills off to study, effectively punting the issue to start over as a new bill before the next Legislature and governor in 2013.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at