Firearms bill draws fierce debate before being tabled by NH House
CONCORD — After a long, harsh debate, the House on Wednesday tabled legislation creating a commission to study the effect of state firearms legislation on “firearms violence” in the state.
The bill called for the commission to “explore options to strengthen the background check system for firearms sales,” according to the majority of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which backed the bill on a 12-6 vote several weeks ago.
The commission would also “determine whether existing penalties for the illegal use of a firearm are sufficient,” and it would “review whether current laws governing concealed carry licenses allowing non-residents to a carry a loaded pistol or revolver in this state should be revised.”
Originally, the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell of Dunbarton, would have permitted a nonresident from a state that does not require a license to carry a loaded pistol or revolver to carry a firearm in New Hampshire.
But it was changed to a study commission in the House committee, a move that sparked emotional debate and a series of parliamentary moves on the House floor leading to the final vote.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, insisted the amendment was not “germane” to the original bill and should require a suspension of the rules, and a two-thirds vote, to be considered.
House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, ruled the amendment was germane and acceptable.
Vaillancourt vehemently challenged the speaker’s ruling, but she was upheld on a vote of 182-144.
Vaillancourt said the bill “has nothing to do with the amendment tacked upon us in a conspiratorial manner by the majority, who would want to rule by, dare I say, dictatorship.
“I do not favor tyranny by my party or the other party,” Vaillancourt said.
He called the ruling of the committee chairman and then the speaker “the worst sort of political ploy. This isn’t just a study committee but goes way beyond the scope of that bill and should not have been allowed in.”
Hoell said the original measure was a “simple housekeeping bill,” but was “completely gutted and used as a vehicle for somebody else’s agenda.
“That’s not how we decided this House was going to work,” he said. “This bill is exactly what we killed several weeks ago on the House floor, regarding studying firearms legislation.”
Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch, D-Bradford, speaking in favor of the Democratic amendment said, “Whether you think (the state’s gun laws) need to be strengthened or loosened, it is time for the New Hampshire Legislature to take a look at where we’re going and where we need to improve.”
In more parliamentary moves, Republican Rep. Pam Tucker of Greenland asked to recommit the bill to the criminal justice committee for a public hearing on the amendment creating the commission. But her motion failed, 176-116.
She then moved to table the bill, but was rejected, 186-150.
Democratic Rep. Robert Cushing of Hampton said it would be more effective to pass the bill and have “a gathering of all stakeholders around the table to take a comprehensive look at issues related to guns and gun safety.”
Vaillancourt said the House should “hang our heads in shame” if it passes the bill without a hearing on the commission.
Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, called the moves “a device by the minority to frustrate the will of the majority.”
In the end, however, the vote to table was bipartisan.
After the vote, House Republican Leader Gene Chandler said, “A simple bill with good intentions was targeted by anti-Second Amendment advocates in the Legislature as a vehicle for their agenda. The bill, as amended, was a dramatic departure from the intent of the original bill and is clearly an attempt to further the discussion on universal background checks and scrutiny on gun owners. The House, just over a month ago, already dismissed HB1589, a bill that sought to study similar issues. The bill was defeated by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, 242-118.”
Chandler said, “The procedural questions that were raised during the debate were enough to convince a bipartisan majority of the House that HB 1264 should not move forward.”