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Sununu: Gun Laws Fine As Is



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 09, 2018

Claremont — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday reiterated his support of a state law that prohibits towns and schools from banning adults with guns from public property, though local officials have raised concerns about student safety.

The same day, House lawmakers sidelined a bill from gun-rights advocates that sought to strengthen the law by penalizing local officials who tried to ban guns from school grounds or other public land.

“Look, I think the laws we have on firearms in the state are pretty darn good and I’m not looking for any additional restrictions at this time,” Sununu told reporters following a bill-signing ceremony in Claremont regarding lead paint removal.

Several Upper Valley school districts have policies forbidding citizens from carrying guns onto school grounds. But New Hampshire’s firearms law gives the Legislature sole responsibility to regulate guns and knives, and that means municipalities and schools cannot enact such regulations, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, though policies that prohibit students and school staff from bringing guns onto campus are allowed,

The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits unlicensed gun owners from carrying weapons within 1,000 feet of a school. However, the state Attorney General’s Office has said New Hampshire law enforcement officials cannot enforce the law, though federal agents could.

The Lebanon School District also was told by its attorney last month that its ban on firearms is in violation of the law and would need to be amended. The Claremont, Dresden and Mascoma school districts have similar bans on their books, and Rivendell officials are mulling their own.

Asked whether guns should be allowed in schools, Sununu replied, “I can tell you, I’m not looking for any additional restrictions at this time. I’ll leave it there.”

School officials and educators argue gun bans are essential to preventing school shootings.

“We’re here to keep our children safe in our school buildings,” Lebanon School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey said earlier this month. “To have it a free-for-all is really not fair.”

Sununu’s stance isn’t a surprise, said Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst at Southern New Hampshire University.

It’s unlikely that taking a stance on the law would make the governor any new political allies, Spiliotes said on Thursday.

“It’s a challenging issue for any politician to wade into, particularly if you’re trying to have a coalition that includes both conservatives and moderates,” he said.

Gun politics are a very polarizing issue, and any move to either regulate firearms or remove restrictions would likely draw the ire of those entrenched in the issue, Spiliotes said.

“My guess is that (Sununu is) probably not looking to wade into this in any meaningful way,” he said.

Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said Sununu likely is attempting to avoid upsetting fellow Republicans and gun-rights groups, which are politically active and organized.

“Historically, a key group of voters in the Republican base are gun owners and gun-rights advocates,” Scala said. “Any Republican politician in New Hampshire advocates for new restrictions on gun rights at their peril.”

Sununu’s comments came just hours before the New Hampshire House voted to effectively kill a bill that sought to punish local officials who enact gun bans.

HB 1749 would have imposed a $5,000 penalty on any elected town official or school board member who enacted a local policy banning guns on public property, It also sought to forbid public money from being used for their legal defense.

The House voted, 239-71, to refer the legislation to interim study, meaning it will not go forward this session.

However, supporters didn’t let the bill go silently.

“Are we going to give up our authority on our laws?” asked state Rep. Brian Stone, R-Northwood. “This is a matter of principle of enforcing our laws on the books, not whether we agree with the laws that are on the books or not.”

Others argued the bill needed work and wasn’t yet ready to move forward to another committee or the Senate.

Sununu was in Claremont to sign legislation that establishes universal lead testing for all 1- and 2-year-olds in New Hampshire.

The legislation, SB 247, also imposes new regulations that require landlords to remove lead hazards from older homes. It also creates a $6 million loan program to assist those landlords.

The bill passed the Senate, 18-6, in January. Six Republicans opposed the bill, including state Sen. Bob Giuda, who represents the Haverhill area. Sens. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, and Ruth Ward. R-Stoddard, supported the measure. Ward’s district includes the Newport area.

Speaking before a crowd of municipal officials, legislators and housing advocates at the Common Man in Claremont, Sununu praised the law and its potential effects on Granite State children.

“We will, without a doubt, prevent a lot of children from getting lead poisoning,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s a really good thing.”

The Claremont School Board approved a policy last year that requires all children entering preschool and kindergarten to have at least two documented lead-level blood tests. The city also has made efforts to abate lead paint from its housing stock.

Because of their older housing stock, both Claremont and Newport are listed as being among the state’s Health and Human Services’ “highest risk communities” for lead poisoning in children.

“Screening rates are up, the public is engaged, policies and resources are in place and by the end of 2018, we will have removed all known lead components from our water distribution system,” Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett said at the bill signing ceremony.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.