Lawmakers defeat a sixth gun safety bill, this one aimed at keeping guns out of schools

By ANNMARIE TIMMINS

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 04-14-2024 6:33 PM

Thursday morning, Moms Demand Action gathered their gun safety advocates in the New Hampshire State Library to encourage them to continue pressing lawmakers to support their legislative agenda and to run for office to replace those who don’t.

“We’ve done a lot of work this legislative session, putting up signs, showing up for hearings and courageously providing testimony,” Kathleen Slover, a volunteer with the New Hampshire chapter, told the crowd. “Without your tireless work, we wouldn’t have any hearings to go to or any bills to support.”

Several hours later, lawmakers rejected the sixth bill on the group’s priority list.

Senate Bill 593, which failed in the Senate, 14-9, along party lines, would have prohibited guns on school grounds and buses. State law prohibits drugs but not firearms on school grounds.

That leaves just one gun safety bill still in play: House Bill 1711, a bipartisan effort to add certain mental health records to gun background checks. While federal law prohibits anyone who has been committed to a psychiatric facility from buying or possessing a gun, New Hampshire does not submit the mental health records that would identify those individuals.

The bill cleared the House two weeks ago with the help of 25 Republicans who joined Democrats in backing it. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

The Senate debate over the bill banning guns on school grounds was brief Thursday.

Senate Democrats pointed to school shootings outside New Hampshire and incidents within the state where armed individuals have been on school grounds, threatening to shoot.

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“As a gun owner … and a parent, I value my Second Amendment rights while recognizing the need for responsible firearm regulation, especially in sensitive environments like schools,” said Sen. Donovan Fenton, a Keene Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor. “Senate Bill 593 strikes this balance effectively, respecting individual rights while prioritizing public safety.”

Republicans countered with two arguments: Bringing a gun to school would have been a misdemeanor under the bill, too light a penalty, they said, to deter anyone. And, they argued the millions the state has given schools to improve safety and expand mental health treatment is a more effective step toward preventing school shootings.

“Let’s focus … on actual solutions to the problems our state faces instead of supporting legislation that infringes on the constitutional rights of Granite Staters,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican.

Here’s a look at the seven gun-related bills introduced this year.

Two bills aimed at protecting Second Amendment rights have passed.

House Bill 1336 would prohibit employers who receive federal or state money from disallowing employees from storing firearms and ammunition in their locked vehicles while at work. It would also make it illegal for employers to search an employee’s vehicle or ask whether they have guns or ammunition in their vehicle.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill Tuesday as well.

House Bill 1186 is a gun privacy bill that would block credit card companies from tracking firearm and ammunition purchases by prohibiting merchants from entering a code during a gun or ammunition purchase.

The bill would also allow the Attorney General’s Office to pursue legal action unless the retailer agreed to cease coding purchases.

Most gun safety bills failed before they could make it to the other chamber.

House Bill 1050 would have created an option for individuals to put themselves on a do-not-sell list for fear they will hurt themselves or others if they have access to a gun.

Under Senate Bill 360, family or household members could have asked a court to restrict access to firearms for someone they believe poses an immediate or significant risk to themselves or others.

At Thursday’s morning rally with gun safety advocates, Robin Skudlarek, of Londonderry, said she needed such a law 20 years ago when her brother tried to kill himself.

He survived, but the memory remained difficult for Skudlarek to share Thursday.