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January 10. 2013 11:00PM

NH gun bills filed, but not because of Newtown

CONCORD - State lawmakers have not rushed to change gun laws in New Hampshire in light of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

Only nine bills dealing with guns or weapons have been filed for the upcoming session, and six of those bills would reduce requirements or clarify existing statutes.

Three bills would change requirements for firearms. although none were introduced because of the Newtown tragedy.

House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, would repeal changes made to the state's Castle Doctrine. The last legislature essentially included "stand-your-ground" provisions, which allow someone to use deadly force within their home and on their property to protect themselves and their family.

Under a law passed in 2011 over the veto of former Gov. John Lynch, the Castle doctrine protections are expanded to anywhere a person has a right to be.

House Bill 135 would also repeal the provision in the current law granting civil immunity for the use of deadly force in certain circumstances, and changes the definition of non-deadly force by eliminating a section stating that showing or producing a weapon is considered non-deadly force.

Shurtleff said his bill would revert to the original Castle Doctrine with one change. When the bill was passed in 2011, it removed minimum mandatory sentences from the statute.

Shurtleff said he did not change that provision, so sentencing for violating provisions of the law is determined by a judge.

A former U.S. marshal, Shurtleff opposed the stand-your-ground provisions when they were before the legislature in 2011.

He said he proposed the changes before the Newtown tragedy.

Open-carry limit

Another bill would prohibit a person without a concealed weapon permit from openly displaying a pistol or revolver in a public place.

New Hampshire is an open-carry state and a person does not need a permit to carry a firearm as long as it is not concealed. Some bars in Manchester, Keene and other areas of the state have open-carry nights when patrons display their guns.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Delmare Burridge, D-Keene, said he introduced the same bill three years ago when he was in the House.

He noted there was a large turnout to oppose the bill, saying "they did not want any restrictions at all or encumbrances."

The bill would cover not only state buildings, but public buildings such as libraries and schools.

Burridge noted people go into town clerk offices to pay their taxes wearing guns.

"Why subject public employees to this kind of intimidation?" he asked.

Police officers and people with concealed weapons permits would be exempt under his bill, he said.

"I'm trying to bring some sanity back into it," Burridge said. "One person can have more fire power than the Continental Army facing the British at Bunker Hill. That's ludicrous."

Safety instructions

A Charlestown representative wants people to have training and safety instructions before purchasing or acquiring a firearm.

Rep. Cynthia Sweeney, D-Charlestown, said she introduced the bill because of an incident a year ago involving her granddaughter.

"This has been on my mind since then and has nothing to do with what happened in Newtown or Colorado or any other places," she said.

She said her granddaughter was visiting friends and one of her friends had a BB gun. When she left, Sweeney said, a young man asked to use the BB gun and shot at her granddaughter as she left the area.

"When they were telling me the story," Sweeney said, "I was waiting to hear them tell me my granddaughter was minus an eye."

She said people treat BB guns like toys, but they are not. People need to be aware of the safety issues when they play with guns, she added.

Under her bill, a study committee would determine what safety instructions and training would be required before a person could purchase or acquire a gun.

"Whatever they come up with, I would like it to be something to make them realize what they have is not a toy, but it is a weapon," Sweeney said. "It may not kill you, but it sure as heck can maim you."

Other bills

On the other side of the issue, Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, is proposing a bill that would repeal the licensing requirement to carry a concealed weapon. A similar bill died in the last legislature.

Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, will propose a bill to exempt firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition manufactured in New Hampshire from federal law and regulation. A similar bill died last session.

Another bill the past legislature failed to pass to reduce non-resident fees for pistol permits will be introduced this session by Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, would protect gun owners from liability if a firearm is stolen and then used for a criminal act.

Another bill concerns felons who possess a firearm.

And Rep. James Belanger, R-Hollis, is the prime sponsor of a bill that would allow military and veterans groups to use firearms in a city or town for military or veterans events or on a national holiday.

Public hearings on proposed legislation begin next week, although none of the gun bills will have hearings.

grayno@unionleader.com


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