Change in law hailed as symbolic victory
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
With a stroke of Gov. Chris Sununu's pen, New Hampshire Republican legislators achieved on Wednesday a goal they had been twice denied under Democratic governors – the repeal of the requirement for a special permit to carry a concealed firearm. However, whether people were for or against it, it seemed that the passage of the law affording what supporters call "Constitutional carry" is more symbolic than sweeping, as gun owners had already been permitted to openly carry a firearm in public, and those who wanted to carry a concealed firearm could apply for a permit to do so at their local police department.
The legislation, known as SB 12, was sponsored by Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), who issued the following statement after the bill's passage: "Today, I am proud to finally say that New Hampshire citizen's right to carry a concealed firearm without a permit has been restored ... This bill, signed by Gov. Sununu, allows what is known as constitutional carry, ensuring that citizens who are already legally able to own a firearm are able to carry that firearm on a concealed basis without requiring permission and a license from the local police department."
Sununu also issued a statement after signing the bill into law: "SB 12 ensures New Hampshire citizens are guaranteed the fundamental right to carry a firearm in defense of themselves and their families, as prescribed by Article 2a of our state constitution," said Sununu. "This common sense legislation aligns our concealed carry laws with that of our neighboring states of Vermont and Maine, and states across the country."
The law was not without its detractors, though, including the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association, which took issues with the law's terminology, which, according to a press release from the association, could allow children, or people convicted of a violent misdemeanor, to conceal a firearm.
"I'm opposed to it," said Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams. The process for acquiring a concealed carry permit, he said, "gives an added level of protection."
Adams said he has processed hundreds of concealed carry permits per year since he became chief, and has only declined a handful of applications. He might deny an application because of mental health problems or the applicant's criminal history, especially regarding drug use or sales.
Though he opposed the law, Adams said that his officers always act as though the person they're interacting with might be concealing a weapon.
"It's always a concern ... That's something that can be done anyways. That's always in our minds," said Adams.
At Abe's Awesome Armaments in New Hampton, store manager John Elliott and sales staff Chris Fowler were both glad to see SB 12 signed into law.
"The permitting process was kind of unnecessary," said Elliott. "By definition, the criminal doesn't follow the law. The only people being affected by those laws were law-abiding citizens." He added that his customers were "all pretty happy about it." Elliott didn't consider it a business opportunity for the store, though, because most people who wanted to carry could already do so, either openly, or, for a $10 permit at their local police department, concealed.
"Nothing has really changed, except, a bit of relief to the law-abiding citizen's wallet," said Elliott.
"I think some of the stereotype about this becoming a wild-west mentality is just hype," said Fowler, adding that SB 12 doesn't change who can purchase or possess a firearm. "It's just reaffirming the basis of the Second Amendment ... There's a lot of respect for the Constitution in this state, which is nice."
At Skip's Sport Shop in Bristol, Skip Reilly welcomed the news of Constitutional carry with a mixed reaction. He didn't feel that it was too burdensome for people to apply for a concealed carry permit – "They're fairly easy to get if you're not a criminal or a bad guy," he said – but he also didn't object to removing the requirement for a permit.
"I do have mixed emotions about it. As long as they don't inconvenience law-abiding residents, I'm fine with it," said Reilly, adding that he respected the process by which the change was brought about. "If it's what the people wanted, then, fine. They're the ones that have the final say on it."
With more people likely to be carrying a concealed weapon, Adams said those people should be aware that, though they are within their legal rights to have a hidden firearm, they should be aware of how it could affect a situation, especially if it suddenly becomes revealed. He suggested that people with a weapon, should they interact with a police officer, make sure the officer knows that the firearm is present and ask the officer how he or she would like to proceed.
"If they don't tell them, and then they see the weapon, it could cause some concern," said Adams.
Felons are still prohibited from having guns despite change in law
According to a New Hampshire State Police press release, the main language change in this law is as follows:
• The length of time for a permit to carry a concealed pistol or revolver changed from four years to five years
• A person may carry a concealed loaded pistol or revolver without a license, unless such person is otherwise prohibited by New Hampshire or federal statute.
• Requires the Director of State Police to negotiate and enter into agreements with other jurisdictions to recognize the validity of the New Hampshire license to carry.
• Repeals the requirement to obtain a concealed carry license, both for residents and non-residents, and making the seeking of a license voluntary.
Residents and non-residents who wish to continue participating in the concealed pistol or revolver permit system may continue to file applications with either their New Hampshire city or town as previously required, or in the case of a non-resident seeking a concealed pistol or revolver permit, an application will need to be filed with the Department of Safety, Division of State Police Permits and Licensing Unit.
Concealed pistol or revolver permits issued within the State of NH will be required for residents and non-residents seeking to carry under a reciprocity agreement within another state.
New Hampshire law prohibits the possession of a firearm under the following:
• Felony conviction against person or property
• Felony conviction in violation of RSA 318-B, the New Hampshire Controlled Drug Act, or
• The subject of a valid domestic violence protection order.
For further guidance related to Federal prohibition, refer to: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/identify-prohibited-persons
Chris Fowler, an employee at Abe's Awesome Armaments in New Hampton, displays a Keltec .380-caliber pistol, only slightly heavier than a cell phone, that would be easy to carry concealed. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
Skip's Sport Shop in Bristol carries a line of handbags and pocketbooks made by the brand Gun Totin' Mammas, designed for women who wish to carry a concealed handgun. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)