Guns on Campus

By now many readers have heard about HB 334, which would nullify all existing, and forbid any future, local firearm regulations on property owned by the state of New Hampshire or its political subdivisions (town, city, county, etc.).  The bill, which has been recommended for passage when the House returns in early January, has received significant public attention due to the effect it would have on weapons policies at our public colleges and universities.

All of New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities currently ban guns on campus, and HB 334 would mandate a reversal of that policy. University officials and police, citing the prevalence of alcohol use and the fact that one’s college years are “often among the most volatile periods in a person’s life,” requested an exemption to HB 334 that would retain their authority to regulate the possession of firearms on campus. That request was denied, as supporters of the bill actually argued that allowing everyone to carry guns on campus makes us safer.

The negative consequences of HB 334 unfortunately stretch well beyond the college campus issue, as the bill’s effect is much more widespread than most people realize. By banning firearm regulations on any publically owned property, the bill removes the ability of anyone – even private businesses that lease property from the state – to adopt firearm regulations that fit their specific needs. Were HB 334 to become law, local officials would have no authority to stop individuals from carrying guns into places like the Alzheimer’s unit at county nursing homes or day care operations located on public property.

Ironically, by supporting this bill, Republican leaders have abandoned numerous values they usually purport to embrace. Local control, business rights, opposition to government mandates, and adherence to the constitution have all been tossed aside in exchange for a drastic expansion of gun rights.

A late amendment, likely added because of justified concerns from town officials, allows town selectmen to override the mandate. While beneficial for towns seeking to protect public safety on their property, that provision is a direct violation of the equal protection clauses of both the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions. Because the override provision applies to towns but not New Hampshire’s 13 cities, one-third of our population is denied the constitutionally-guaranteed equal protection of the laws.

The question becomes, why are Republican lawmakers so focused on an unnecessary pro-gun mandate at the expense of public safety and local control?  Do people really feel that their rights are being violated when they can’t bring their gun into the county-run daycare center or the registrar’s office at UNH?

Regarding colleges specifically, this legislature has already placed an extreme financial burden on our institutions of higher learning by cutting state funding for the university system 50 percent, and the community college system 30 percent, in the budget that became law July 1. This bill would force university officials to completely re-train their security and police forces, using up time and increasingly scarce resources that would be better utilized supporting the education that students pay for.

Our job as elected officials is to listen to our constituents and support commonsense legislation that helps the people of New Hampshire. This bill is staunchly opposed by those who it would most affect. House members should listen to the people we represent, and defeat HB 334 when it comes before us in January.

(Representative Terie Norelli is the Democratic Leader in the New Hampshire House of Representatives)