CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire House lawmakers on Thursday rejected an attempt to allow pistols and revolvers on public college campuses, while the Senate agreed to consider giving school boards explicit authority to ban guns.
Lawmakers did not specifically mention last week’s deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, during their debates, but it clearly was the motivation behind Democratic Sen. Martha Hennessey’s effort to amend another education-related bill to give local school boards the power to prohibit guns in designated safe school zones. The Senate voted to send the amendment to its education committee so it could be properly vetted with a public hearing, rather than vote on it then.
“I am disappointed we are not addressing this issue faster and sooner, because in the meantime, children are dying,” said Hennessy, of Hanover.
The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school, but New Hampshire law gives the state Legislature the sole authority to regulate guns. That has created some confusion, as some communities have created gun-free zones on town- or school-owned property. The House earlier this month voted to further study a bill that would punish such communities with $500 fines.
Supporters of that bill used the same argument — that only the state can regulate guns — to back Thursday’s House bill that would have allowed anyone who is not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law to carry a gun onto the grounds of any University System of New Hampshire campus or community college campus. Currently, the campuses ban guns other than those carried by law enforcement, but some Republicans say those policies are illegal.
“Not all campuses have security,” said Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown. “College kids — or adults, because they’re adults at this age — deserve the right and have the right to protect themselves against school shootings.”
Opponents argued that the youngest college students are adolescents who may be experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and that allowing them to carry guns would be unwise. They also said in the event of an active shooter, it might be unclear who was the shooter and who was the defender, which could have fatal consequences for innocent bystanders.
“If there is an active shooter incident on a college campus, let’s say there’s 1,000 students and 100 of them have firearms, it would be a disaster,” said Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston. “Law enforcement coming into a place like a school with half a dozen or a dozen people with guns drawn is not a good scenario.”
The House voted 231-110 to defeat the bill.