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Bill to restrict firearms rights draws gun owners' ire

State House Bureau

February 21. 2013 8:23PM
Don Gorman of Deerfield speaks in opposition of HB 290, which seeks to prohibit unlicensed persons from openly carrying a pistol or revolver in a public building at a hearing at the State House in Concord on Thursday. As he spoke, Gorman took off his coat revealing a side arm. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD - Gun owners turned out in force to proclaim their right to bear arms, including a former representative who took off his coat to show his holstered weapon in Representatives Hall where guns are prohibited.

Former Libertarian Rep. Donald Gorman of Deerfield spoke against House Bill 290, which would prohibit a person with a license to carry a concealed weapon from openly carrying a firearm on public property.

Testimony was overwhelming in opposition, with former Republican Party Chairman and gubernatorial candidate Jack Kimball of Dover telling the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee it needs to curtail bills that seek to take away people's "God-given rights" because the issue is galvanizing people like never before.

"It's up to you to end this stuff," Kimball told the committee. "If you put it in our hands, we will end it. Believe me, we will end it."

But several people testified something has to be done about the growing gun violence in the country.

Anne Lyczak of Portsmouth, who lost her husband to gun violence, said it is just a matter of time before something tragic happens in New Hampshire.

"Do we value gun rights, or do we value public safety," she asked. "Do we value gun rights or do we value human rights?"

Under HB 290, anyone caught carrying a firearm on public property who does not have a license to carry a concealed firearm would be guilty of a Class B felony punishable by three-and-a-half to seven years in prison and prohibited from ever owning a gun again.

Several people objected to the "severe punishment" for exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

"You want to put law-abiding citizens in jail because he has a pistol on his hip," said Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton. "This is radical gun-control legislation that will, in fact, make New Hampshire less safe."

He and many others testified the bill is unconstitutional because it violates Article 2 guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms.

"We have a right to defend ourselves wherever we have a right to be," Kimball told the committee. "It's a God-given right."

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Delmar Burridge, D-Keene, said the bill would prohibit any person without a concealed weapons license in state or local government buildings, including town halls, libraries and state university and community college facilities.

Someone at a library may not be comfortable if someone with a pistol sits down next to them, Burridge said. Or a town employee may feel threatened if someone wearing a firearm comes in to pay their taxes.

Opponents of the bill said it would put law-abiding citizens who do not choose to get a license to carry a concealed weapon at the mercy of local police or make them criminals.

"This bill treats people differently, those without the money or political clout to get a license," said Concord attorney Penny Dean.

Ralph Demicco, president of the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, said the bill assumes a person who openly carries a firearm is more dangerous than a person with a concealed weapon.

"The open carry of a firearm indicates to me this individual has nothing to hide," he said. "An individual bent on performing a violent act with a firearm is going to plan it out and not be so obvious as to have a firearm on his hip."

Donald Gorman, who is a firearms instructor, told the committee more and more women who have never picked up a gun are coming to his classes. "They are afraid," he said. "They are afraid for their safety, they are afraid for their homes."

If the bill passed, he said his concealed weapon would be illegal in a public building like the State House, and he took off his coat to reveal his weapon. "If I am asked to leave," Gorman said, "half the committee is going to have to leave with me."

Mary Bonser, a Nottingham selectman, said residents have had the constitutional right to bear arms for 229 years without a problem.

"A sidearm is the ultimate in feminine protection," Bonser told the committee.

The committee also held a public hearing on House Bill 451, which would do away with the state's requirement to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon.

Hoell, the prime sponsor, said it is not accident that New Hampshire and Vermont, two state's with the least restrictive gun laws in the Northeast, have the lowest crime rates.

Similar bills have been before the Legislature since 2005, but none have passed.

The committee did not make a recommendation on either bill.

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