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Another View -- Evan Nappen: Will Gov. Hassan keep a racist law on the books?

June 07. 2015 7:53PM

SENATE BILL 116 repeals the state’s requirement that one obtain a License to Carry a Pistol or Revolver, better known as a concealed carry permit, to carry concealed in New Hampshire. Though that gets all the attention, the bill also repeals a bigoted provision in the law that was designed to keep guns out of the hands of immigrants.

Under SB 116, the LTC remains, but it is optional. The current statute requires that one be a “suitable person” to obtain an LTC. SB 116 would strip that language, which has racist origins.

The term “suitable person” can directly trace its roots to racism and the growing political influence of the Ku Klux Klan in New Hampshire in 1923. Gov. Maggie Hassan has threatened to veto this bill, which has passed both the House and Senate. Yet it would be a mistake to let this racist relic remain on the books.

New Hampshire’s long-standing “suitable person” standard is founded upon bigotry directed at immigrants. New Hampshire’s LTC law dates back to 1923 and started out as House Bill 26. According to the Journal of House of Representatives from January 1923, this act was passed to “…control the possession, sale and use of pistols, or revolvers….” The new law required that “no person shall sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a pistol or revolver to a person who is an unnaturalized foreign-born person or has been convicted of a felony….”

New Hampshire’s gun control law equated legal immigrants with felons as one in the same. In House Bill 26, the current LTC was created in which one had to be a “suitable person” to be licensed. A suitable person was plainly NOT an “unnaturalized foreign-born person” or a felon.

According to an article in Historical New Hampshire Vol. 43, No.4, “The Ku Klux Klan In New Hampshire, 1923-1927,” by Stephen H. Goetz, “…Ku Klux showmen blamed societal change on groups of scapegoats: blacks, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants.” In the book, “The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics,” Arnold S. Rice writes, “The Klan’s plank was chameleonic;…in New England, anti-French Canadian; in the large cities of the Northeast, anti-alien-born….”

Rich further writes that the tenets of the Ku Klux Klan were the following: “(1) memorialization of the original Klan; (2) white supremacy; (3) anti-Semitism; (4) anti-foreign-bornism; (5) anti-Catholicism; (6) “pure” Americanism; (7) Protestantism and strict morality.”

New Hampshire’s “suitable person” standard for gun control perfectly mirrored the rising Klan sentiment in New Hampshire. It played on the fears that many in New Hampshire had of the new immigrants. These immigrants made up a substantial portion of the population and workforce centered at the mills of New Hampshire. The “suitable person” standard was put in place to stop immigrants — particularly the French-Canadians, Polish, Irish, and Italians, many of whom were Catholic — from being able to possess and carry guns.

This “suitable person” requirement is offensive to those who believe in people being treated as individuals, and not being discriminated against based on race, creed, color or religion. The “suitable person” law in 1923 gave in to the Ku Klux Klan’s political agenda. It is long overdue for New Hampshire to get rid of this disgrace.

Evan Nappen is a gun rights attorney in Bow.

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