Selectman denounces New Hampshire gun bill

CONCORD – Milford Selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere told a legislative committee last week that a proposed state law that would fine town officials for enforcing local gun restrictions is an outrageous attempt to frighten local officials.

Fougere was among about a dozen people to speak at a Jan. 10 hearing of the Municipal and County Government Committee of the House of Representatives.

Towns are in a better position than the state to decide the “where, how and when of gun use,” he said, and the “most outrageous” part of the bill are the penalties.

House Bill 1749 would take the place of a New Hampshire law that gives the state sole control over gun use and expands it by including penalties of up to $5,000.

The penalties would apply to town officials who violate a court order relating to enforcement of the law. If it passes, it would replace RSA 159:26.

The town of Milford and the Lebanon School District are mentioned in the bill’s findings as examples of governing bodies in conflict with state law.

Last year, at the urging of the police chief, Milford selectmen enacted a town rule restricting gun use on the Brox property.

During the almost two-hour hearing, the committee heard from about a dozen people, including representatives of Gun Owners of New Hampshire, the National Rifle Association and some of the bill’s 10 sponsors, including state Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton.

“We are not a Home Rule state,” Hoell said, and “legislative authority rests in this body.” Gun use is “a Constitutional right we have to extended to all citizens uniformly.”

State Rep. James Gaffney, R-Warner, said it is “stunning that anyone should not be penalized for breaking the law.” State Rep. Alan Rice, R-Bedford, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America and vice president of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, said “gun owners need to know they are not at risk of arrest” when they go to another town.

Speaking against the bill was Londonderry Police Chief William Hart, who explained how three years ago the town crafted, with the help of gun owners, an ordinance that restricts target shooting on the Musquash conservation land and how it enforces it with an “education first” policy.

“We, as a state, cherish the idea of local control,” he said, and it is important for communities to be able to solve their own problems. HB 1749 “goes overboard” and having penalties applied to volunteer town officials “seems Draconian,” he said.

State Rep. Wayne Burton, D-Durham, called it the “most bizarre bill” he’s ever seen, and Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, said Milford should be able to regulate target shooting on town land, and “it’s a matter of safety and simple common sense.”

The House Bill is at the start of the legislative process. Chairman James Belanger, R-Hollis, told the committee it was scheduled for an executive session that afternoon, Jan. 10, but the meeting would have been premature considering the number of speakers at the hearing. There will be a session at a later date.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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