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Smith & Wesson .357 revolver
Thursday, May 3, 2012

Capitol Watch: Senate kills bill to expand concealed weapons rights

CONCORD – The recent spate of wanton gun violence played a part in the state Senate killing a bill that would have expanded the rights of citizens to carry a concealed gun without a permit.

A House-approved bill (HB 536) would have made concealed permits a voluntary option and was strongly opposed by law enforcement groups and by Gov. John Lynch, who vowed to veto it.

A Senate committee recommended changing that bill to allow for carrying without a permit at home or at someone’s business.

But it also removed a key provision and would allow this non-permit status even for those who lawfully can’t get a permit in the first place, such as a convicted felon.

The Senate voted, 17-7, to table the bill Wednesday. Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, confirmed the bill will remain tabled until the 2012 session concluded, when it would formally die.

Sen. Jim Luther, R-Hollis, said he’s a strong Second Amendment supporter.

But Luther said he found it difficult to consider an expansive gun rights bill after the tragic shooting last month of Maximos Hebert, 9, of Hollis, who died of a gunshot wound to the head.

“This is just a very difficult time for us to consider all of this,” Luther said.

He noted that both gun-owner and gun-control groups opposed the pending Senate bill.

Organizations like Gun Owners of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition wanted the Senate to embrace the House bill; gun control groups didn’t want any bill to pass.

“We were getting it from both sides in calls and emails, and the message was the same: don’t pass what is in the Senate bill,” Luther said.

Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, favored the pending Senate and House-passed bills.

“I have a permit to carry and would prefer we be like Vermont and not have them,” said Lambert, a decorated Iraqi war veteran and Marine Reserve colonel.

Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, said that in his 22 years in the Legislature, this was the first time he wasn’t backing a pro-gun owner bill.

“On this particular bill and the times we have gone through, I could not bring myself to vote for this piece of legislation,” Barnes said.

“Some people have said, ‘Oh Jack, this could be political suicide.’ Let me say this: For $92 a year, you want to shoot me, go ahead.”

Barnes referred to the annual $100 salary for N.H. legislators minus what is taken out for federal taxes.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, who represents Hudson, said she hopes compromise language to bring about a permit-less carry system can be reached by a newly elected Legislature next year.

In a 10-day period in April, there were 10 gun-related deaths and the month casualty total almost equaled the average number of New Hampshire homicides for a year.

The state prosecutor that heads the criminal division called the rash “unprecedented” topped by the killing of Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney and shooting of four other officers trying to serve a no-knock warrant at the home of a suspected drug dealer.

Sen. Raymond White, R-Bedford, who represents Merrimack, joined Lambert in trying to keep the bill alive.

“We can only pray that it is coincidental and not a sign of things to come; that’s what we hope,” White said.

“I don’t think what we are discussing today would have changed the equation on any level.”

But White fired back at gun-owner groups that wanted the untouched bill the House passed, 193-122 back on Jan. 5.

“I do stand with you for freedom and unrestricted ability to carry a firearm lawfully without a permit,” White said.

“I would say to those groups: You are out of your mind if you think we can’t have any restrictions whatsoever.”

At the outset of the 2012 session, Lynch vowed to veto three pending gun-owner bills pending in the Legislature.

The action effectively killing this bill was the third measure; the state Senate took actions earlier this year to set aside the other two, including one to prevent any ban on gun possession on college campuses.

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