Bringing a gun to the polls in New Hampshire may be legal — but it’s not “a good idea,” according to the top federal law enforcement official here.
In 2017, New Hampshire lawmakers repealed the license requirement to carry a concealed pistol or revolver. The state also has an open carry law.
“And so people are allowed to openly carry their weapons, and they are allowed to come into polling places carrying a weapon in order to vote if they choose to,” said Anne Edwards, associate attorney general.
However, she said, “They can’t do anything to intimidate other people, like voters, to try to prevent them from going inside and exercising their right.”
What about polling places that are in schools? Wouldn’t bringing a gun violate the Gun-Free School Zones Act?
That’s a federal law, Edwards said. “The state of New Hampshire has no authority to enforce it, and so it’s an issue for the U.S. Attorney’s office to deal with in New Hampshire,” she said.
“So whether the federal government is going to enforce one of its laws is its choice, and we as a state don’t have the authority to make that decision for the federal government,” she said.
If a voter calls the AG’s office to ask about guns in polling places, Edwards said, they inform the caller of New Hampshire’s laws and the federal law. But she said, “We don’t give legal advice. We often will give them the U.S. Attorney’s telephone number so they can call over there and have the conversation with them.”
There isn’t an easy answer to the question, according to Scott Murray, U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire. “I can’t tell you absolutely that it’s illegal to do it, because the (gun-free schools) law has exceptions built into it,” he said. “Just the fact that someone carries a gun in a school zone doesn’t mean they’re violating the federal prohibition.”
For instance, Murray said, “If you are licensed by the state and you have one strapped on your hip, that’s not going to violate federal law.” New Hampshire no longer requires a license to carry a concealed pistol or handgun, but the license still exists and some gun owners may choose to get one if they plan to travel to other states, he said.
The Second Amendment is not “absolute,” Murray said. The Supreme Court has ruled that there can be reasonable restrictions, such as the ban on guns in courtrooms, and those convicted of violent crimes and domestic violence can’t have guns.
“If you take a gun to the polls and you use the gun to intimidate someone or … you get arrested for disorderly conduct and you’ve got a gun, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be prosecuted under the federal statue if we can put the case together,” he said.
So what’s his advice for voters this election season? “If you’re asking for my personal opinion, I don’t think it’s a good idea to carry a gun into the polls,” Murray said. “It just raises all kinds of issues.
“That doesn’t mean the person may not have a right to do it. If it’s not illegal under the federal statute, then they have a right, but it raises all kinds of questions when someone does.”
Just last week, voters in several states, including New Hampshire, received threatening letters related to the election. Murray said his office has received reports of such incidents and has been in touch with law enforcement agencies. “I can’t say anymore about it than that,” he said.
Security at the polls “is primarily a state function,” Murray said. “That’s because the polls are run by the state; they’re not run by the federal government.”
But Murray said his office has been in contact with the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as the Attorney General and police chiefs, Murray said. “And we’re going to be on high alert during the election to make sure there are no violations of federal law, like intimidation,” he said.
“Both the FBI and ATF are ready to respond if the need arises, to the extent we have the authority to do it.”
The AG’s office operates an election hotline that’s already open for calls from voters (1-866-868-3703 or 1-866-VOTER03).
The U.S. Attorney’s office also has a phone line for Election Day concerns: 603-230-2503. “That’s a number that people can call if they feel that there have been attempts to intimidate them or threaten them, or conduct that’s directed at minimizing their right to vote,” Murray said.
But Murray, a former Merrimack County Attorney and city prosecutor in Concord, isn’t worried about trouble on Election Day. “I’ve lived in New Hampshire all my life,” he said, “and my experience is that people for the most part respect the right to vote and they’re very respectful when they go to the polls.”