IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, state law allows legal gun owners to carry guns into public schools. The law, as presently interpreted by the state Attorney General, forbids local school boards from prohibiting anyone but students and employees from possessing a gun on school grounds.
Like many in our state, we had long assumed that the Federal Gun Free School Zone Act (GFSZA) worked to keep guns out of our schools. But a recent New Hampshire Attorney General ruling concluded that, by virtue of a provision in the act, the GFSZA does not apply because of New Hampshire’s open carry laws.
New Hampshire is one of only three states in the nation where guns cannot be prohibited from K-12 schools. Ironically it is the only state allowing guns in K-12 schools but where guns can be kept off university property (UNH is a gun-free school).
The New Hampshire Legislature is currently considering HB 564, which will generally align state and federal law in prohibiting guns in “Safe School Zones.” We join the NEA of New Hampshire and the N.H. Medical Society in advocating for the passage of this bill.
In a lengthy day of public testimony on HB 564, gun-owner groups made the case that any restriction on guns in schools violated their 2nd Amendment rights. Yet, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in “District of Colombia vs. Heller” expressly recognizes that the restriction of guns in schools is presumptively legal. Indeed, Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion, highlighted that the 2nd Amendment does not afford an unrestricted right to possess arms.
Guns advocates opposed to HB 564 also argued that schools are made safer when guns cannot be restricted. They argued that guns provide an effective deterrent to school shootings in that they could be effectively used against an attacker.
On the contrary, guns in schools create a more dangerous environment. Prohibiting school personnel from denying access to individuals carrying guns effectively allows a would-be attacker to enter a school and access their target(s) unchecked until the moment they declare themselves a threat by committing an act of violence.
The presence of guns in schools can undermine school routines. School personnel and students are taught “If you see something, say something.” This strategy works in a gun-free environment. With the introduction of guns, students and teachers cannot be reasonably expected to determine whether a person unfamiliar to them poses a threat. With their sense of safety eroded, these children and educators are likely to react in a way that triggers unnecessary (and traumatic) lockdowns.
We also believe that under the incredible stress of an emergency situation, an armed individual who lacks the extensive training of a police officer would inadvertently endanger the lives of students and staff no matter how good their intentions. Furthermore, the job of first responders becomes exponentially more difficult when it becomes unclear which armed individuals are perpetrators and which are trying to defend themselves and others.
Opposition to sensible gun regulation also illustrates the incoherent approach our state has taken thus far with regard to school safety. Currently, school districts across the state are spending millions of dollars to comply with federal Department of Homeland Security recommendations that school entrances be “hardened” to better regulate public access. The State of New Hampshire has already contributed more than $11 million toward these projects.
But what is the point of having “hardened” entrances to enhance security when staff may not prohibit someone from entering a school with a gun?
As elected members of a public school board, we must make every reasonable effort to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff. We believe that there is broad support among parents and educators, regardless of their political party affiliation, for keeping guns out of New Hampshire’s K-12 schools. It is simple good sense.