N.H. Attorney General: School Gun Bans Unlawful

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Lebanon and other communities that have adopted firearm bans on school grounds will have to revise them to comply with a state law passed in 2003, reported the Valley News:

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office says it agrees with legal experts who maintain that school officials in the Granite State cannot legally enforce firearm bans on school grounds.

Policies in Lebanon, Hanover and surrounding communities that prohibit the public from carrying guns onto school property violate state law, according to Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards.

In an email last week, Edwards said her opinion aligns with the message delivered to the Lebanon School Board by its attorney on Wednesday: In New Hampshire, only the state Legislature can regulate firearms.

Lebanon’s policy, which was recently strengthened, will have to be amended in the coming weeks to comply with state law, James O’Shaughnessy, of the Manchester-based firm Drummond Woodsum, told board members.

It’s not just Lebanon schools that could be affected by the legal opinion. Other Upper Valley school districts are assessing what they can do lawfully to protect students. Meanwhile, a group of legislators is calling for a repeal of the state law that curtails local control.

“I really think that guns shouldn’t be in schools, they shouldn’t be on college campuses,” said state Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills, on Sunday.

Tanner, a retired Kearsarge Regional High School teacher, said she understands that people want to protect themselves, and that often includes carrying a firearm. However, she’s skeptical that being allowed to carry weapons on school campuses would enhance safety and security.

Instead of guns in schools, she said, districts need more resources and a working relationship with police who are appropriately trained to handle emergencies.

“Good planning, good emergency planning, good mental health services within schools, those are the things we need to look at,” said Tanner, who also owns firearms.

Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, also said the issue needs to be further studied by the Legislature, especially because state law appears to conflict with federal law.

The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school.

But the state Attorney General’s Office said last year that local police departments don’t have the jurisdiction to enforce federal statutes.

Meanwhile, state law provides the state Legislature with the sole authority to regulate guns and knives, meaning school districts and municipalities cannot set their own rules, even if they conform to the federal law.

Rep. Sue Almy, D-Lebanon, also called for repeal of the state law that limits local officials, even though she supported the 2003 legislation that established the policy.

At the time, House Bill 415 garnered wide, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by then-Republican Gov. Craig Benson.

The bill gave the state jurisdiction over “sale, purchase, ownership, use possession, transportation, licensing, permitting, taxation, or other matter pertaining to firearms.”

The provision was attached to another measure, which sought to increase the number of minors who would have right to a speedy trial in instances of sexual assault.

“I think the whole thing has to be looked at in general,” said Wolf, a former chairman of the Kearsarge Regional School Board. “I believe the Second Amendment is not an unlimited right at any and all times to bear arms.”

[A] group of 10 Republican legislators are hoping to strengthen the existing state law, taking aim at communities and school districts that have made their own rules.

HB 1749 would institute a $5,000 penalty for elected officials who have been found by a judge to have violated the state firearms law.

The bill also would forbid school districts and municipalities from using public money to “defend or reimburse the unlawful conduct” of those elected officials.

That legislation is currently before the House Municipal and County Government Committee.

Source: N.H. AG: School Gun Bans Unlawful | Valley News

Update: The House Municipal and County Government Committee voted 18-2 to refer the bill to interim study on Tuesday, January 30.