By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A recent incident at the thrift store and food pantry operated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on Union Avenue threw the conflict between the right to carry a firearm and the right to private property into stark relief.
A nurse, caring for a 5-year-old disabled boy in a wheelchair and openly bearing a holstered firearm, entered the store. According to Erika Johnson, president, "A couple of our customers freaked out." She said she told the woman that the customers were upset and that firearms are not permitted in the store, then asked her to take the gun to her car and return without it. Johnson said that the woman had walked to the store and had no place to safely store the firearm.
"She did not complain," Johnson said. "She was very nice."
Johnson said she called the Police Department and spoke with an officer, who assured her that she is entitled to exclude firearms from the store.
Capt. Matt Canfield confirmed that in New Hampshire, which is among 28 "open carry" states, no license is required or any restriction placed on an individual's right to openly carry a loaded firearm in public spaces. At the same time, owners of private property otherwise open to the public, may lawfully exclude firearms from their premises.
Soon afterward, the woman's companion, Randy Comeau, in letter to The Laconia Daily Sun, which appears on page 6, wrote that "It saddens me that ignorant and judgmental people discriminate against those who would put themselves in harm's way to protect them." Comeau said Tuesday that he is a former military policeman and corrections officer, with 10 years experience in law enforcement, who is thoroughly familiar with the laws governing firearms. He was not present when the incident occurred, but noted that the nurse was "exercising her Second Amendment right and carrying a firearm, which she is highly trained and permitted to carry."
Comeau said Tuesday that the couple visits the thrift store regularly — "at least once a week" — and, although armed, had never been asked to leave before. Nor, he said, was a notice prohibiting firearms in the store posted. He acknowledged that just as individuals have a constitutional right to openly carry a firearm, so a private property owner has a right to prohibit firearms on their property. But, he said "If you don't want them in your store, put a sign on the door."
Some champions of the Second Amendment claim that for a private property owner whose premises are otherwise open to the public to exclude an armed person would be an act of illegal discrimination on a par with refusing to serve someone because of their race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. Comeau stopped short of this position, but pointed out that barring firearms amounts to "taking away your right to protect yourself."
Johnson said that following the incident, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has posted a notice at the thrift store that firearms are not allowed on the premises.