Shooting penalties target town of Milford

MILFORD – The prime sponsor of a proposed state law that would penalize towns that try to control gun use on town property says the lack of penalties encourages local officials to violate a state statute.

State Rep. J.R. Hoell, (R-Dunbarton) and nine other Republican lawmakers introduced House Bill 1749 in November for action next year.

Milford and Lebanon are mentioned in the proposed bill as examples of municipalities allegedly breaking a state statute – RSA 159:26 – that gives the state sole control over gun use.

Selectmen in Milford enacted a rule last summer prohibiting target shooting on the Brox property in response to a request from police who said they don’t have a legal basis to ask people to refrain from shooting at the sandpit.

“There are officials who choose to break the law,” Hoell said in a phone interview, because an existing state statute forbids municipalities from regulating the use of firearms. A new law is needed, he said, to deal with local officials who ignore it and adopt restrictions on gun use on town land.

“We don’t want a patchwork quilt” of local regulations, Hoell said, and New Hampshire is not a Home Rule state, meaning state law preempts local ordinances.

Hoell once lived in Milford and said he is familiar with the sandpit. Concerns about shooting there are “overblown,” he said, and the situation represented “a noise concern at best.”

House Bill 1749 would impose fines of up to $5,000 for town officials who break the state law.

Milford selectmen acted on advice from town attorney William Drescher, who said he believes the town can control what goes on in its property, as any landowner can, and it also has the right to control what is inherently dangerous.

The board voted 3-2 last August, with state Sen. Gary Daniels and Mike Putnam dissenting. Last week, however, Putnam said the state should not be telling towns what to do, and Daniels said the bill needs work.

Board Chairman Mark Fougere said he does not think the rule violates state law.

But Hoell, a board member for the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition and founder and past chairman of PACking N.H., said when towns regulate gun use they are taking away citizens’ right to defend themselves.

In Deerfield, for example, gun owners can’t carry firearms into town offices, he said. In Lebanon the school board in October added “school buildings” to its list of school-related locations where firearms are prohibited.

According to the Valley News, several Upper Valley school districts have either revised or adopted new firearms policies since last spring.

That’s when state Rep. David Binford, R-Orford, arrived armed with a holstered handgun to provide security at a Rivendell Academy playoff basketball game.

State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, is another sponsor of HB 1749. The Londonderry Town Council in 2012 passed an ordinance that forbids target shooting on the 1,000 acre Musquash Conservation Area except during hunting season.

Londonderry Town Administrator Kevin Smith, in a phone interview, said he wonders how many of the people supporting the proposed House bill would ordinarily be supporting local control.

Hoell said Florida had a similar problem with towns and cities creating their own gun ordinances.

In 20111 the Florida state Legislature added penalties so that there would be consequences for local officials who broke state law.

Mayors and council and commission members in the Sunshine State now risk a $5,000 fine and removal from office if they “knowingly and willfully violate” the law. Towns that enforce their ordinances risk a $100,000 fine.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or