CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday rejected an attempt to allow local communities to ban guns in schools, with one Republican telling students looking on from the gallery that they were afraid of death, not guns.
While the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school, New Hampshire law gives the state Legislature the sole authority to regulate guns. That has caused confusion, as some communities have created gun-free zones on town- or school-owned property, and lawmakers are considering several bills aimed at clarifying the situation. The House voted last month to further study a bill that would punish such communities with $500 fines, while the Republican-led Senate voted 14-9 against Democratic Sen. Kathleen Hennessey’s bill that would have given local school boards the explicit power to prohibit guns in designated safe school zones.
Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, told students watching the debate that school boards are not competent to defend and protect them, and that’s why Republican Gov. Chris Sununu recently appointed a task force to study the issue. He argued that gun-free zones are ineffective deterrents and said the focus should be on combining the “tactical realities” of defending schools with mental health components.
“It’s not just a problem of guns, it’s a problem of your safety, and your fear — while you may think of it as a fear of guns, I would submit to you, is a fear of dying. And while the instrument you perceive as the very weapon that could cause that, it’s also an instrument that can prevent it.”
Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, said he asked his two teenage daughters if they would feel safer if the amendment passed, and one of them said she would feel safer if trained school employees were carrying guns.
“If you have no guns in that school, they’re not going to be able to defend themselves,” he said.
Democrats emphasized New Hampshire’s long tradition of local control.
“This is not about gun control, it’s about local control. Local school boards can decide today what the soda policy is or what the cellphone policy is, but they cannot decide the gun policy within the doors of their building,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, of Whitefield. “That makes no sense, and that’s because we’re focused on ideology not practicality. Some of our friends have been pistol-whipped by the NRA, and they’re afraid to stand up for common sense.”
The debate came after tens of thousands of students walked out of their classrooms last week to demand action on gun violence and school safety. The demonstrations across the country were part of a youth-led surge of activism set off by the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
Rachel Ferrier, 17, a senior at Concord High School, stood outside the Senate chamber on Wednesday to send the message that she and other young people are not going away.
“After every school shooting, a lot of momentum builds up, and we see a lot of people starting to demand action, and then unfortunately it slowly goes away and then another school shooting happens,” she said. “The most important thing about this is we’re going to be here for a long time, we’re not going to go away.”
This story has been corrected to show the last name of the Democratic senator is spelled Hennessey, not Hennessy.