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New NH law makes it legal to flash firearms

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 7/27/2021 9:57:27 PM
Modified: 7/27/2021 10:01:30 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

CONCORD — New Hampshire residents and visitors will no longer face reckless conduct charges for displaying a firearm, after Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Friday creating a new exception.

HB 195 amends the state’s reckless conduct statute to clarify that showing off a firearm does not by itself rise to an offense under the statute.

The bill has been hailed by firearm rights supporters as a necessary boost to New Hampshire’s constitutional right to bear arms. It is an extension of the state’s 2017 “constitutional carry” law that allows anyone who is legally allowed to possess a firearm to carry one, whether concealed or out in the open. Though New Hampshire law does not have an age requirement, federal law bars possession of long guns for children under 18 — and handguns to those under 21 — unless the minor carries a letter of permission from a parent who is also allowed to possess a firearm.

Critics say the bill will remove an important safeguard against violence in public places and could make it easier for domestic violence abusers to exert public control.

Currently, reckless conduct in New Hampshire covers any situation where a person “recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another in danger of serious bodily injury.”

The offense leads to a Class B felony if the perpetrator does so using a deadly weapon, the statute states. That carries a jail sentence of up to seven years, and a fine of up to $4,000.

But HB 195 states that “the act of displaying a firearm” will not count as reckless conduct “in and of itself and without additional circumstances.”

The bill attracted fierce debate in the Statehouse earlier this year, much of it in opposition.

At a Senate hearing in May, 218 people registered their opposition to the bill; 17 signed up in support.

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence opposed the bill, arguing it would allow abusers to send signals to their victims — a gesture to a holster or a display of a gun’s grip to demonstrate that the abuser has the capacity for lethal force.

One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Debra Altschiller, of Stratham, likened the conduct allowed under the bill to a person walking around a grocery store with a baseball bat — not directly threatening but carrying the potential to alarm or intimidate.

And a representative from New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which also opposed the bill, said it could escalate public conflicts by allowing armed people to brandish firearms.

Firearm rights groups argue the bill will have the opposite effect.

The new reckless conduct exception will not allow a person to wave a gun around, point it at others or make threats in the street, supporters of the law countered.

Rather, the law is intended to allow a person who feels threatened to indicate to another person that they are carrying a concealed firearm, potentially defusing threats of violence, supporters say.

Supporters of the bill included local representatives of Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition.

HB 195 was one of 29 bills signed by Sununu last week, including a bill establishing “vaccine freedom” by prohibiting rules against unvaccinated residents in public facilities; a bill capping tipped wages in New Hampshire to $3.27 an hour if Congress raises the federal minimum wage; and a bill prohibiting DoorDash, Uber Eats and other food delivery apps from selling food from restaurants without obtaining explicit permission to do so.

The reckless conduct bill takes effect Sept. 21.

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