NH House Set To Battle Over Gun Control Measure

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The New Hampshire House of Representatives is set to do battle over a gun control measure which imposes jail terms and fines on adults who fail to take steps to keep loaded weapons out of the hands of children.

To be prosecuted, the child must fire the weapon, threaten another person with its use or use the gun in the commission of a crime. If found guilty of violating the law, the responsible adult would face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The legislation was offered in response to the recent shooting in a Michigan elementary school. The incident involved the death of a six-year-old girl at the hands of a six-year- old male classmate.

Senate Bill 419, approved last week in the senate by a margin of 31 to 11, will be debated in the 435-member House of Representatives within the next three weeks, according to State Representative David Welch, chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public safety Committee.

While the New Hampshire House of Representatives has long been dominated by Republicans, it has, in recent years, voted to approve an income tax, repeal the death penalty and allow homosexuals to serve as foster parents. Now the question many are asking is will this body approve a gun control bill long favored by liberal Democrats, including State Senator Burt Cohen, who sponsored the recently approved Senate bill. A similar piece of legislation was rejected by the House in 1995.

"We're going to work hard in the House," Cohen said. "A lot of Republicans, who were against it at one time, know that this is the right thing to do. I'm sure the gun owners association will work hard against it. But I'm also sure there are individual gun owners who support it."

"This bill won't accomplish much and, at worse, it will cost lives," said Gun Owners of New Hampshire President Craig Paterson, who contends the law could hinder people who try to defend themselves. "Senator Cohen goes after guns because they are an easy target."

Paterson and Welch insist negligence is already covered under state law and, like other opponents, believes the bill is little more than "feel good" legislation. "We were assured by members of the attorney general's office and state police that the activities the bill tried to make illegal were already subject to prosecution.," said Welch. "This is feel good legislation that does nothing."

"Why are kids so violent? There are a lot of reasons. If you take away the gun, they will pick up a baseball bat. If you take away the baseball bat, they will pick up a stone," Welch added.

"Democrats see political hay here," said Republican State Representative Fran Wendelboe, a gun rights advocate who criticized fellow Republican and State Senator Patricia Krueger for voting for the measure. "It was a 13 to 11 vote, so it would have been 12 to 12 had she been opposed...is she trying to be the turncoat of the year?"

The issue is also impacting next year's contest for Speaker of the House. "I will have to see the language. In general, I've always supported the right to use guns. So I want to make sure this is not a knee jerk reaction to incidents," said State Representative David Scanlan, a likely candidate for the speakership.

"I will submit this legislation to extremely close scrutiny before I vote for it," said State Representative David Hess, another likely speaker candidate. "I am going to have to be persuaded, by overwhelming evidence, that this is a problem that requires another criminal statute."

House Democratic Leader Peter Burling, who supports the bill, said, "All this says is, if you have kids around, keep the gun locked. It's really one of the most benign bills to come along in a long time."

Governor Jeanne Shaheen has not decided yet whether to sign the bill, should it pass.