CONCORD — The new concealed-carry law upholds the right under New Hampshire law for adults to carry guns onto school property, but also leaves in place restrictions against letting students have the same access, advocates and opponents agree.
The federal Gun Free School Zones Act of 1996 made it against federal law for an adult who is not a member of law enforcement to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of public, parochial or private schools.
But to be enforced here, there must be a state gun-free school zone law — something the state Legislature has repeatedly rejected.
“New Hampshire doesn’t have a gun-free school zone law; it’s never had one,” said Alan Rice, treasurer of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition.
But contrary to the claim of some police chiefs during the recent debate, the concealed-carry law will not permit students to possess guns.
That’s because for more than 20 years, there’s been a state law on the books that allows school board members, local administrators and school superintendents to create rules limiting guns on school property that apply to all students.
There is also a state law that’s decades old which makes any adult subject to increased prison time if he or she commits a crime with a gun on school property.
Federal law does override when it comes to a minor’s possession of a handgun. There is no minimum age requirement under state law, but federal law forbids anyone in New Hampshire under 18 to possess or be given a handgun, Rice said.
The state’s gun lobby believes the Supreme Court provided impetus for the concealed-carry law via a 2013 decision in the case of Mark Doyon vs. the town of Hooksett.
The state’s high court unanimously ruled that while state law did not define the “suitable person” to whom police chiefs must grant a concealed-carry permit, the chiefs must have “some measure of discretion” to deny that permit.
“In a limited amount of communities, this has led to some real abuse,” Rice said. “They only have themselves to blame.”
Tuftonboro Police Chief Andrew Shagoury said other states without concealed-carry permits, such as Maine, have many more restrictions than New Hampshire.
In Maine, adults can’t carry weapons in schools or bars, and they are urged get training to get a gun license, Shagoury said.
But Rice said the law leaves in place the provision for “prohibited persons” who can’t have a firearm. These include convicted felons or those with a mental health problem so significant that a judge has ruled — after a hearing — that the person is too dangerous to have a gun.
“We’ve never opposed keeping guns from the prohibited person as long as he or she gets due process,” Rice said. “This is what the chiefs didn’t want to surrender, the right to just say no without any valid reason.”