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Jan 10, 2017 11:18 PM

Bill to eliminate permit for carrying concealed weapon passes first State House test

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – A measure that would make it easier for Granite Staters to carry a concealed weapon passed its first hurdle legislative hurdle on Tuesday.

And after being vetoed the past two years by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, her Republican successor has said he’ll sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party line vote, passed the bill, which would repeal the current requirement of a license to carry a concealed handgun. The three Republicans on the committee, Sens. Sharon Carson, Bill Gannon and Harold French all voted in favor of the measure, with Democratic Sens. Bette Lasky and Martha Hennessey voting against the bill.

State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a co-sponsor of the bill, kicked off the testimony, saying “this is a bill that we’ve heard before. This is a bill that we’re all familiar with.”

And Bradley wasn’t kidding.

Similar measures passed the GOP dominated state Senate and state House of Representatives the past two years, but were both vetoed by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Her predecessor in the Corner Office, fellow Democratic Gov. John Lynch, vetoed similar measures in 2006 and 2011.

But new Gov. Chris Sununu, the first Republican to hold the office in a dozen years, has repeatedly said he’ll sign the measure.

Bradley, in his testimony, said “this is a bill in my opinion that will make New Hampshire a safer state. And it’s a bill that will provide for constitutional protections for law abiding New Hampshire citizens.”

State Rep. Al Baldasaro, urging the senators to vote for the bill, saying “I’m asking you please, give us back our constitutional rights. Let us not have to beg a chief of police to exercise our rights.”

Police chiefs in the Granite State can deny a concealed weapon permit if they feel the applicant is not “suitable,” according to current state law. Representatives of the state’s Chiefs of Police Association, as well as the state Justice Department, did not testify at this year’s hearing, a change from years past.

Former state Sen. Bob Clegg, a lobbyist who said he was testifying as a private citizen in support of the measure, said “there have been people who’ve been denied by chiefs base on their performance at a town meeting.”

And Michelle Levell of the Women’s Defense League detailed the time and expense she went through as she successfully challenged opposition to her concealed carry renewal in Windham.

Some witnesses in favor of the bill testified that open carry of handguns can make some people uncomfortable.

Baldasaro created a minor controversy when talking about Lasky, the co-chair of the committee and the senior Democrat on the panel. Baldasaro said “why would I want to intimidate the weak or people that would get scared like maybe Sen. Lasky, who’s scared if she sees an open carry.”

Baldasaro then said “no disrespect I mean.”

Lasky quickly responded, saying “you underestimate me, representative.”

Opponents: ‘Keep the law the way it is’

Testifying against the bill, Democratic Rep. Tim Horrigan of Durham said “I think the current licensing law is fine. 95% of all the applicants get approved. So I would say keep the law the way it is.”

That message was later echoed by Democratic Rep. Sue Newman of Nashua, who added “I don’t see that keeping the existing law infringes on anything. It should not be any kind a threat or hostile action against 2nd amendment advocates.”

The hearing room was also full of representatives from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety, who opposed changing the current law.

Deb Howard of North Hampton, who was with Moms Demand Action, argued that “this would dismantle current concealed carry permitting system, making it easier for people including criminals, mentally ill, and other dangerous people to carry concealed loaded handgun throughout the state.”

“This is a system that’s been in place in New Hampshire for 90 years. It’s not difficult to get a permit. It does not place an unreasonable burden on law abiding citizens. Removing this permit will not make New Hampshire safe. In fact it will make New Hampshire less safe by allowing dangerous individuals to carry hidden loaded firearms,” she added.

After the committee’s action, Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice Hawkins said “with this vote, New Hampshire is opening the door to allow dangerous individuals with a track record of violence to legally carry hidden, loaded weapons.”

The measure could be voted on by the full state Senate as early as a week from Thursday. With the bill being sponsored by 13 of the 14 majority Republicans in the chamber, it’s very likely the measure will pass.

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