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Background Check Bill Fails in N.H.

Proposal Would Have Closed Loophole for Gun Show Sales

Concord — House members killed a bill to expand background checks for gun sales on Wednesday after two hours of debate and political maneuvers to first water down the bill before voting against it outright.

“I believe this is an attempt to solve a problem that is nonexistent in New Hampshire,” House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, told his colleagues.

The bill, sponsored by eight Democrats, would have expanded background checks to commercial gun sales, meaning sales or transfers at gun shows or in response to advertisements, and would’ve required people without licenses to sell guns to make transactions through dealers. Private sales between people who know each other wouldn’t have been subject to this requirement.

Under federal law, felons, people under domestic violence restraining orders, fugitives, drug addicts and the dangerously mentally ill cannot buy guns. Supporters of this bill say expanded background checks would help prevent individuals in those categories from obtaining weapons.

“It’s not unlike the concept of requiring anyone who wishes to fly from going through a security screening,” said Rep. Chris Muns, a Hampton Democrat.

But opponents argued the bill would put more restrictions on law-abiding gun owners while doing little to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“If a criminal wants you, they’re going to get you, whether it be with a gun or a knife,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican. “But let’s not make criminals out of our citizens here in New Hampshire.”

Early in the debate, opponents successfully amended the bill, stripping it of language to expand background checks and instead making it a bill to create a committee to study New Hampshire’s existing gun laws. This change passed on a vote of 177-175, which Rep. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton being the only Republican to vote against it.

Supporters of the study said New Hampshire does not have a gun problem, and studying the current laws would give lawmakers a better idea of what pieces of state law work well.

“New Hampshire stats on violent crime are some of the lowest in the nation,” said Rep. Laura Jones, R-Rochester. “Is that because of our current laws as they stand now? And if (it is), we want to tread very lightly before we take this momentous step of changing them.”

But the House ultimately voted to kill the bill with this amendment, too, in a vote of 242-118, meaning a defeat for establishing a committee to study New Hampshire’s existing laws and for expanding background checks. A background check bill would have faced difficulty in the Republican-led Senate.

Another background check-related bill up this session is a Senate bill to prevent anyone judged mentally incompetent by a court from buying a gun.

Throughout the House’s two-hour debate, Rep. Edward Butler, D-Hart’s Location, urged his colleagues to give the bill the fair and full airing their constituents deserved, even if they did not support expanding background checks.

“They want, I believe, a vote up or down after a full-throated debate,” he said.

Dozens of supporters and opponents of background checks filled the gallery to listen to the debate, wearing yellow badges indicating their position on the bill.

Judy Aron, a South Acworth resident against expanded background checks, said the bill would incrementally diminish gun owners’ rights and was pushed by out-of-state interests.

“We don’t have a gun problem here in New Hampshire,” she said.

But a number of women from New Hampshire’s chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America were disappointed by the House’s votes.