Students deserve to feel safe in schools, and adults should do everything possible to keep them safe. The State is spending millions of dollars for bullet-proof glass and surveillance cameras. For almost no cost, we can add another layer of protection. We can make it a crime to bring a gun onto school grounds.
We already have a state law that applies to students. In most cases, a student who brings a gun to school must be expelled for a year, but there is no state law that applies to adults.
There is a federal law. The 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits guns on school grounds, but includes exemptions for police and security personnel. These exemptions are straight forward, but the exemption related to general citizens is not.
Under the federal law, an individual with a state license to possess a firearm may carry it into a school zone, provided the state’s licensure process included verification by law enforcement that the person is qualified. How this provision applies to New Hampshire is anybody’s guess. Another murky area not even mentioned in the federal law is license reciprocity agreements between states.
If you think communities can enact their own gun-free school zone laws, think again. According to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, cities and towns have no authority to enact gun prohibitions, only the State Legislature has that authority. Local police don’t even have the authority to enforce the federal law. (“NH AG: School Bans Unlawful” Valley News, January 28, 2018)
Gun laws and attitudes about guns differ greatly state-to-state. In recognition of this fact, the federal law includes the uncommon provision that state gun-free school zone laws will always take precedence (i.e. supersede the federal law). Congress hoped states would enact their own laws, and forty-seven states have done so. Wyoming, Hawaii and New Hampshire have not.
It’s time for New Hampshire Republicans and Democrats to put aside party differences. Tell candidates of both parties for Governor, State Senate and State House that you want them to work together and pass a state gun-free school zone law. Tell them to do it for the children.
Sallie Fellows, Democrat for House of Representatives