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State legislators weigh proposals to restrict or loosen gun laws

State legislators grappling with how to regulate the ability of New Hampshire residents to carry guns are weighing several proposals that would take drastically different approaches.

Last week, legislators on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held hearings on four bills, including one sponsored by Rep. Daniel Itse (R-Fremont) that would require school districts to adopt policies on whether employees could carry weapons on the job.

“My bill was well supported by the public, and I’m sure the committee will kill it,” said Itse in a phone interview Friday. “I basically proposed local control. It would be up to the voters. If they said ‘Yes, we want this,’ the school board would be constrained to come up with a policy.”

Itse’s bill would give school boards the option to allow employees who hold a pistol permit to carry the weapon while in school. He said it would provide a safer school environment.

“Should there ever be someone bent on mayhem in a classroom, that’s the only thing that’s going to stop them,” Itse said. “We don’t have the finances for a police officer in every school. No system is perfect, but this would give us a better chance.”

Itse said no teacher or school employee would be required to carry a weapon.

“It would be open to as many as feel comfortable and want to do it,” he said.

ConVal School Board Chair Butch Estey is a former state trooper and police chief. When asked to comment on the proposal, he said it was not a good idea.

“I believe in Second Amendment rights within reason,” said Estey on Friday. “But I wouldn’t support something like this. Arming teachers is not the right way to go. They should be focusing on teaching.”

Itse admitted that he didn’t think his proposal would gain much traction in the Legislature.

“It’s not an off-the-wall proposal,” Itse said. “In this political climate, it’s going to fail anyway. But it’s a way to start the discussion.”

Itse is also a co-sponsor of a bill that would restrict the ability of judges to have firearms confiscated as a condition of bail. HB 209 would not allow judges to order relinquishment of firearms as a condition of bail unless the person charged was alleged to have committed a violent crime or to have used a weapon when committing a crime. That bill has been referred to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee but hearings have not been held.

The committee rejected a proposed bill that would have permitted the use of firearms by military or veterans groups “in the compact part of a town for military or veterans events, or national holidays.” By a vote of 13-6, the committee ruled the bill “inexpedient to legislate,” meaning it will not be considered at this session.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee also held hearings on two bills sponsors said would make the New Hampshire a safer place. One proposal, sponsored by Rep. Delmare Burridge (D-Keene), would prohibit a person without a concealed weapon permit from openly displaying a pistol or revolver in public.

In a phone interview Friday, Burridge said having to go through the process of obtaining a concealed weapon permit would bring some degree of control over who is carrying a firearm in public.

“People walk in to public places with their weapons showing just because they can,” Burridge said.

Burridge, who served two terms in the House from 2006 to 2010 and was elected to a third term last year, said he proposed similar legislation during his earlier stint in the House, but it was not passed.

“No one wants any oversight,” he said. “A lot of people said this is not constitutional but that’s really overreaching. It hasn’t been contested to our N.H. Supreme Court.”

Another bill, sponsored by Cynthia Sweeney (D-Charlestown), would establish a committee to develop safety and training standards that would have to be met before a person could purchase a firearm. Sweeney has said she was prompted to introduce the bill after a granddaughter was shot at by a boy with a BB gun.

Another bill that would give more protection to gun owners was approved by the House last week and is now under consideration in the state Senate. HB 388 would prevent someone who stores or leaves a weapon at home or a business from being held liable in a civil case for the criminal acts of a person who illegally obtained the firearm and used it to commit a crime.

On the local front, gun safety will be the topic of a two-hour class on March 19 sponsored by the Rindge Police Department and Rindge Crime Watch.

About 100 gun locks will be given away at the event, which is to be held at the Rindge Recreation Department at 7 p.m., according to Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill.

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