It’s only been on the books for a couple of months, but Democrats in New Hampshire are already taking aim at a new state law that prohibits law enforcement from cooperating with the federal government in enforcing any gun control measures not found in state statutes. HB 1178 was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu in late June, and already at least two Democrats in the state legislature have announced plans to try to repeal the law, claiming it makes New Hampshire residents less safe.
That argument doesn’t hold a lot of water, however, given that most of the concerns raised by opponents of the new law are based either on a misreading of the legislative text or on simple fearmongering. Back on September 1st, New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella sought to alleviate some of those concerns by releasing guidance regarding the new law and what it does and doesn’t do, but not surprisingly, anti-gun politicians and activists remain adamantly opposed to the measure.
School officials can still report potential shooters on campus, Attorney General John Formella wrote this month. State Police officers can still confiscate weapons from alleged domestic abusers. A new federal firearms law closing the “boyfriend loophole” will still apply in New Hampshire.
The legal interpretations, issued in a nine-page opinion Sept. 1, are part of an effort by the department to provide more information and cool tensions around the new law, House Bill 1178, which prevents state and local officials from enforcing federal firearms laws that are not replicated in state law.
“Unless expressly delegated by a federal law enforcement agency, state and local law enforcement have never had the authority or jurisdiction to enforce or administer federal firearms violations or laws,” the department wrote in an accompanying “Frequently Asked Questions” document. “HB 1178 has not changed this.”
… Signed by Gov. Chris Sununu this summer, the new law prohibits the state or any political subdivision, including county and municipal law enforcement, from using resources to enforce, administer, or cooperate with federal firearms laws and rules that aren’t consistent with state law. The law does not prevent federal agencies or officials from enforcing those federal laws in New Hampshire, but it does bar state and local agencies from aiding in those investigations.
The law includes an exception: New Hampshire officials may assist federal officials with enforcement if the investigation is not solely centered on alleged violations of federal firearms laws and regulations. If the investigation contains other alleged crimes, that cooperation is allowed, the new statute states.
Democrats and two of the state’s county sheriffs had raised concerns around the law back in July, arguing it would tie the hands of law enforcement and could dissuade officers from taking action against potential school shooters. The Department of Justice issued preliminary guidance that month stating that the new law would not prevent law enforcement from stopping school shooters, and urging school officials to reach out to law enforcement if they see a threat on campus. At the time, the department said a more complete legal analysis would follow.
Democrats had also complained that the new law would prevent local or state police from enforcing the new federal law aimed at preventing dating partners convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing firearms, but apparently they didn’t realize that state law already forbids anyone convicted of domestic violence against an “intimate partner” from legally owning or obtaining a gun.
The concerns of the anti-gun crowd appear to be based more on the fact that a pro-2A bill was signed into law than any specific issue with the legislation itself, which likely won’t trouble too many voters in the Live Free or Die State. In order to actually repeal HB 1178 Democrats are going to have to have a blue-wave Election Day, given that Republicans have a three-seat majority in the state Senate and a 24-seat majority in the House. I think that’s unlikely to happen, but some on the left are still hoping they can scare voters into siding against their own Second Amendment interests.
This week, Rep. Paul Berch, of Westmoreland, filed a legislative service request for the “Making Our Communities Safe Act,” which would repeal the law entirely. Former House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, of Penacook, is filing a separate bill that would codify the Gun Free School Zones Act into state law, permitting its enforcement.
Berch argued the department’s new guidance has not fixed matters, and said he had filed the bill “at the request of state and local law enforcement, school students, teachers and administrators, victims of domestic violence and citizens across the state.”
“…I have filed a bill to repeal HB 1178, an ill-conceived, poorly crafted, and confusing law that hampers New Hampshire police officers and makes our citizens less safe,” he wrote in a statement. “Even noting that guidance from the Attorney General finally arrived last week, months after the bill’s enactment, major confusion and gray areas remain for law enforcement as to what constitutes the ‘enforcement’ of federal firearms laws.”
If there’s any confusion still to be found, it’s only among those who want to remain willfully ignorant of how HB 1178 can and will be enforced. I think the bill was pretty clear from the get-go, but after Formella’s extensive guidance there shouldn’t be any questions about the parameters of the law. State or local law enforcement can’t go out and attempt to enforce any federal gun control laws not found in state law, but that doesn’t stop them from taking part in any multi-jurisdictional task force that is seeking to enforce federal drug laws, apprehend those with warrants, or other operations that are not specifically focused on enforcing federal gun regulations that don’t have an analogue in state statute. Violent criminals can still be pursued. Threats of school shootings can still be investigated. Those convicted of domestic violence can still be prohibited from lawfully possessing a firearm. Local police can still cooperate with their federal counterparts in almost every circumstance. Only when or if the feds demand or expect assistance from state or local police to enforce a gun control provision that can’t be found in New Hampshire statutes would the law come into play.
HB 1178 is a pretty narrowly-crafted bill, all things considered, but New Hampshire Democrats are still trying to demonize the new law in hopes of driving up their turnout in November. Given the fact that New Hampshire has some of the best gun laws in the country from a pro-2A perspective, along with one of the lowest homicide rates in the nation, I don’t think this argument is going bear much political fruit for the left come Election Day, but Granite State gun owners still need to be engaged and involved to keep the current pro-2A majority in place when the next legislative session rolls around in January. The stakes are simply too high to sit this election out.