The day before the one-year anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, New Hampshire lawmakers said they are hoping to take advantage of a Democratic-controlled legislature to move ahead with gun control legislation that would allow school districts to create gun-free zones.
But some opponents say creating such zones make schools a target for shooters.
The gun control bills were up for a hearing Wednesday. In addition to the gun-free zones bill, another bill would require background checks for commercial gun sales while one would create a waiting period of seven business days between the purchase and delivery of a firearm.
The zones would include the schools and school buses and the bill would bar anyone not authorized by the school district from possessing a firearm on school grounds. Anyone dropping off a child could have a gun in their car as long as it was locked away and not loaded.
Supporters – some holding signs with messages like “Save Our Schools From Gun Violence” – said the zones ensure a safe learning environment and is the first step in dealing with gun violence.
“Public safety is a legal, legitimate state interest and what could be more obvious state interest than safeguarding the lives of our children,” said Tracy Hahn-Burkett, a parent who heads a grassroots group in New Hampshire against gun violence.
Opponents, who packed the hearing room and far outnumbered supporters, argued the zones wouldn’t work and would make those schools a target for criminals and potential shooters. They also argued it would make vulnerable those who use guns for protection.
Still, others argued it was unnecessary since the state is already one of the safest in the country. They also warned that lawmakers would be held accountable if students were harmed.
“If this is passed and we have a school shooting, the blood of those children will be right here,” said Rep. John Burt, a Republican from Goffstown.
Mitchell Kopacz, president of the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, said all this legislation would do is to make people feel safer, not actually keep them safe.
“Everyone in that safe school zone is now a target. Nobody is armed,” Kopacz said. “Safe schools don’t stop bad people from doing bad things.”
The New Hampshire School Board Association also came out against the bills, saying similar proposals put forth at a January assembly of the state’s school boards were defeated by a slim margin.
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 and several efforts to remedy the problem. Last year, a similar bill allowing for the gun-free zones was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has 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.
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