CONCORD — Gun rights advocates who condemned as “anti-Second Amendment” the outgoing Fish and Game director are urging Gov. Chris Sununu to nominate a “pro-gun” replacement.
The state chapter of Gun Owners of America, along with gun rights leader and state Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, celebrated the Fish and Game Commission’s recent decision to oppose a third four-year term for Director Glenn Normandeau.
They maintain that Normandeau, the second-longest-serving administrator in the agency’s history, opposed every attempt to relax gun regulations. They say those efforts included repealing the law requiring a permit to carry a concealed gun, and unsuccessful bills to eliminate the need for a license for pistols or allow riders to carry guns on snowmobiles.
“The anti-gun activism is coming from the top. New Hampshire Fish and Game needs a strong leader who respects and reveres the Constitution and doesn’t break faith with the taxpayers of New Hampshire who fund the department with state tax dollars,” Burt said. “The department needs to stop advocating for gun control since the department receives close to $500,000 per year of federal gun tax monies.”
For nearly 90 years, Fish and Game has received Pittman-Robertson Act dollars from a 10% federal tax on handguns and an 11% tax on shotguns and ammunition.
Rep. Mark Proulx, R-Manchester, is still angry that the agency opposed his bill several years ago to end the prohibition against motorists carrying loaded guns in cars and trucks.
“Normandeau has pushed against the Second Amendment across the board. It boggles my mind how you have someone against firearms running Fish and Game. It is time for a change,” Proulx said.
State Rep. Daniel Eaton, D-Stoddard, has worked with Normandeau throughout his career. Eaton praised Normandeau as someone who could work with opposing factions, from those seeking fewer restrictions on guns to others who want to license all guns or even ban private ownership outright.
“(In) no place in the description of the Fish and Game Department does it say that the executive director is to be a gun activist. Quite the contrary, the job of Fish and Game is to provide for the safe use of firearms,” said Eaton, who is entering his 30th year in the Legislature and is a retired police chief in his hometown.
Eaton maintains that regardless of his personal views, Normandeau has been an impartial arbitrator.
“He is anything but anti-gun. I have seen him in events off campus when he’s not on the job and he’s very supportive of the rights gun owners have,” he said.
Impartial arbiter or gun control promoter?
Alan Rice, state director of GOA-NH, claims Normandeau has acted as if he represents Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by shooting victim and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
“We are urging the governor to appoint a director who is not a lobbyist for gun control as if he’s working for the Giffords Group,” he said.
Rice has often tangled with Fish and Game officials. He once told Col. Kevin Jordan, chief of Fish and Game’s Law Enforcement Division it was outrageous that bow season is three and a half months long and firearms is but a few days and that this this probably provoked some people to break the law.
Even the popular television series North Woods Law stoked the activist’s ire, with Rice decrying how Fish and Game conservation officers were depicted in interviewing suspected scofflaws without providing proper Miranda warnings and allegedly committing other civil liberty violations.
Two studies out this week offer compelling insights into guns in New Hampshire and complicate the politics surrounding them. While the state ranks in the top 10 per capita in gun ownership, it is one of the nation’s least violent states, including having the lowest gun-involved murder rate.
“This state is more pro-gun than ever,” said Mike Hammond, general counsel to GOA-NH and a former congressional candidate from Dunbarton.
“I think people who think it’s good politics to run a lot of anti-gun legislation up the flagpole in Concord have been fooling themselves. Gun owners here have been fat, dumb and happy and not worried about anyone taking their guns,” Hammond said.
Normandeau said his mandate is simply to enforce the laws and monitor any changes that affect them.
“Mr. Rice, et al, clearly don’t know how things work,” he said, citing the duties of the commission.
“The two issues of significance causing concern were public safety and poaching. The deliberations of the commission, as well as the votes, on these issues were all done in public. I do not recall Mr. Rice or Mr. Hammond ever appearing at a commission meeting to bring their comments to the commissioners or myself and the staff.
“I do not believe I have ever met either one of them,” Normandeau said.
AG says commission ‘exceeded its authority’
In June 2017, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald issued a memo to the commission warning it had exceeded its authority by coming out against a bill to repeal a license to own a pistol or revolver and to make it legal to carry a loaded pistol in a car (SB 12).
“In summary, the Legislature directed the commission to establish positions on proposed legislation. However, that legislation is limited to the commission’s presumably unique expertise in matters relating to fish, wildlife and marine resources as defined by statute as well as overall department management,” MacDonald wrote. “Firearms is not one of the enumerated subject matters.”
In the memo, MacDonald rejected the commission’s defense that it acted because the bill could somehow relate to shotguns, which come under Fish and Game regulation.
“It is the position of this office that SB 12 has no effect on existing law with respect to loaded rifles and shotguns,” MacDonald wrote.
Not all gun advocates share Rice’s negative view of Normandeau’s tenure.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg is a lobbyist and president of Pro-Gun NH, but he’s often at odds with Rice’s views.
“It’s not a gun issue; it’s a hate issue,” Clegg said. “The idea a gun group would interfere in the commission’s work is ridiculous. Alan Rice opposes all the changes we were able to get into Fish and Game laws.”
State Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, and a former Merrimack County attorney, wrote two of the four gun control measures that Sununu vetoed last spring.
“This attack is insane. The Fish and Game Department is the only agency that doesn’t have a commissioner but a director that gets jerked around by this politically-appointed commission,” Rogers said.
“It is already tilted and skewed to people who want to go out and hunt. I do not want to grab their guns; I hardly have room for my dog’s toys,” she said.
Rogers believes the governor appreciates that firearms are just one facet of Fish and Game’s mission.
“I have fought with the governor on these issues, but I think he understands the job of Fish and Game is about more than a gun,” Rogers said.
“Rather than Second Amendment loyalty I want to know, does the next director have a background in marine biology, eco-tourism, hiking trails, the green economy,” she said. “Frankly all of these will have more to do with the success or failure of that agency going forward than what the NRA wants.”
As for Rice, he intends to remain a vigilant guardian of gun freedoms in New Hampshire.
“When wildlife managers decide they are going to stray from managing wildlife and get into issues of gun safety and freedoms, that’s when we have to step in,” he said.
Rep. Ellen Read, D-Newmarket, is working on a 2020 bill to reorganize the agency.
Sununu’s office did not respond to a request for comment.