Editorial: Stick to Your Guns Ban, Rivendell

  • Orford Police Chief Chris Kilmer, left, and Rep. David Binford, R-Orford, right, watch the Rivendell boys basketball game with Winooski in Orford, N.H., Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Mike Harris, Rivendell's superintendent has been asked to write a policy under which only uniformed police officers will provide security at school events. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Published: 2/15/2018 11:41:23 AM
Modified: 2/15/2018 2:25:51 PM

The Rivendell Interstate School District Board is to be commended for pursuing a firearms ban in the face of New Hampshire state government’s callous disregard for the safety of students, faculty and staff. We hope Rivendell will make common cause with other districts that already have implemented such bans — including Lebanon, Dresden, Mascoma and Claremont — to vindicate their right to control the presence of deadly weapons on school property and at school events.

As staff writer Tim Camerato has reported, state law gives the New Hampshire Legislature sole authority to regulate firearms. Thus, according to the Attorney General’s Office, schools cannot enact firearms bans, except for students and staff. It is unclear how this interpretation squares with federal law, which, with some exceptions, specifically bans firearms in or on the grounds of any school, public or private, that provides elementary or secondary education, as well as within 1,000 feet of any such educational institution.

One would think that would be enough to settle the matter, since under the U.S. Constitution, federal law is deemed to be the supreme law of the land. But, again according to the Attorney General’s Office, local and state police in New Hampshire have no authority to enforce federal law. A school gun ban, it says, would require a state statute — as in Vermont, where it is a criminal offense, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, to bring a deadly weapon into a school building, onto a school bus or onto school property.

This is the backdrop to a policy being considered by the Rivendell board that would prohibit firearms in school buildings, on school property, in vehicles used by the schools and at school events. “My advocacy, and I hope it matches other school boards, is that we push hard to not allow guns and other weapons in our schools,” Superintendent Elaine Arbour told a seemingly receptive board at a meeting earlier this month.

The policy is up for further discussion March 6, and we urge the 11-member board to act on the courage of its convictions, because the New Hampshire Legislature appears to have no intention of rectifying this situation, although it did recently kill a bill that would have vindictively imposed harsh penalties on school and municipal officials who tried to exert control over firearms on public property.

Gov. Chris Sununu is similarly spineless on this matter, shamelessly ducking questions in Claremont the other day. “Look,” said the governor, “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.” In this regard, it’s worth noting that the first piece of legislation Sununu signed into law on becoming governor in 2017 was a bill that did away with licensing requirements for carrying a concealed handgun in New Hampshire. (Ironically, the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act makes an exception for individuals licensed by a state or locality to possess or carry a handgun, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.)

Sununu was in Claremont, by the way, to sign into law legislation that establishes universal testing of 1- and 2-year-olds for exposure to lead and imposes new requirements on landlords to remove lead from older homes. “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.”

It is, and we hope that his interest in this issue will extend to preventing the potential exposure of schoolchildren and educators who teach them to a different form of lead — from bullets and the guns that fire them.

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