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Editorial: Support grows in New Hampshire for banning guns in schools

  • At the Legislative Office Building in Concord, N.H., on Monday, August 5, 2019, a crowd came to hear speakers and lend their voices calling for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to sign several gun control measures in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester)

Published: 2/8/2020 10:10:16 PM
Modified: 2/8/2020 10:10:14 PM

Sometimes stating the obvious is not only appropriate, doing so is an affirmative duty. Such was the case in January when the New Hampshire School Boards Association declared that guns have no place in schools.

As staff writer Tim Camerato reported last week, delegates at the association’s annual assembly voted 45-4 to back measures “to restrict possession of firearms on school property to authorized law enforcement personnel only.”

Last month’s vote now aligns the school boards association with the state’s largest teachers union, NEA-NH, and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, which is backing a bill now pending in the New Hampshire House that would ban carrying a firearm on school property. Its president, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis, told Camerato, “Our view of this is that it is a common-sense safety bill.”

Unfortunately, nonsense more often than common sense governs the gun safety debate in New Hampshire, as elsewhere in the nation.

Thus we expect vehement opposition, including from Gov. Chris Sununu, to that bill, which would make it a class A misdemeanor to knowingly carry a firearm on public school property, including buildings, grounds, school buses and vans. Exemptions would be granted to people picking up or dropping off children at school, providing that the gun remains in the vehicle; to anyone authorized in writing by the school board; and to on-duty law enforcement personnel and armed forces members.

This legislation is necessary because of two provisions in New Hampshire law. One gives the Legislature the sole power to regulate firearms and knives. The second is that the Attorney General’s Office has ruled that New Hampshire law enforcement personnel have no authority to enforce the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, which bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school. That’s apparently because New Hampshire — unlike Vermont — has no similar law on the books.

As a result, local school districts are confined to prohibiting staff and pupils from possessing firearms on school property, although the Hanover, Claremont and Lebanon school districts have enacted full bans in defiance of the state law.

Opponents generally take two main lines of argument. One is that a school firearms ban would infringe on their Second Amendment rights, which they view as inviolate. But even the U.S. Supreme Court, which in District of Columbia v. Heller found that individuals have a constitutional right to possess firearms, declared in that same ruling that, “The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on ... laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools or government buildings.”

The second argument is that a good guy with a gun can deter a bad guy with a gun from doing harm. This is an attractive fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. In the presence of a chaotic emergency and in the absence of extensive training, good intentions are more likely to inadvertently endanger students, teachers and staff than to serve as their savior.

Added to this is the nightmare scenario for police officers who arrive on the scene to find multiple people firing weapons without the benefit of black or white hats to distinguish among them.

The irony is that even as New Hampshire districts spend millions of dollars to “harden” school entrances for security reasons, their staff lack authority to deny entry to an armed individual whose purpose in carrying a gun may not be discerned until he is already inside the building.

At best, this situation is stressful for teachers, staff, students and parents. At worst it is a tragedy waiting to happen.

This is so obviously a pressing matter that we urge the school boards association, the teachers union and the police chiefs to bring their considerable influence to bear in pushing this legislation over the top and if necessary over the governor’s objection.

And legislative backers of increased gun safety would do well to concentrate on this one issue, to the exclusion of other measures. It would be a lot harder politically for Sununu to veto a single popular bill making schools safer than it would be to turn thumbs down on a whole suite of gun control legislation.

Valley News

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