CONCORD, N.H. — Gov. John Lynch vowed Tuesday to veto three bills that would ease a broad range of gun regulations in New Hampshire to include allowing guns on college campuses, in classrooms and in public buildings like the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Flanked by college and law enforcement officials, the Democratic governor told reporters at a Statehouse news conference that he supports gun rights, but the three bills would put public safety at risk.
“The combination of these bills has the real potential to lead to an increase in violence,” he said.
House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt said Republicans support law-abiding citizens’ right to carry guns.
“At the end of the day, we trust New Hampshire citizens to use firearms responsibly,” he said.
The House could vote on the bills this week. If they pass, the Senate would consider them next.
After Republicans took control of the House and Senate last year, lawmakers voted to ease gun regulations, including allowing them in the Statehouse complex. The three bills coming up for a House vote would ease regulations across the state.
One of the bills would strip colleges of their ability to prohibit guns on campuses, including in classrooms. The bill would give the Legislature authority to regulate guns on any public land or in publicly owned or financed buildings, except the courts. Lynch said that could mean private companies leasing state-owned office space at Pease International Tradeport would not be able to bar people from bringing weapons into their businesses. Pease is an industrial and business park with locations in Newington and in Portsmouth.
“I don’t think that is a message we should be sending to businesses we are trying to bring to New Hampshire and could threaten the success of Pease,” he said.
Lynch acknowledged he had not heard from any businesses concerned about the issue, but he said they may not know the bill would affect them.
Supporters argue the state shouldn’t create gun-free zones that make law-abiding citizens vulnerable to criminals carrying guns.
University system Chancellor Edward MacKay said adding deadly weapons into a culture where impetuous behavior sometimes takes place is unwise.
“College years are among the most volatile periods in a person’s life and if guns are present it is far more likely there will be incidents on campuses,” he said.
He also is concerned that troubled students might use guns to commit suicide.
A second bill would eliminate the need for a license to carry concealed, loaded weapons anyplace where gun possession is legal. It also would increase from four to five years the length of time a permit is valid. The bill also would make it legal to transport unlicensed guns.
The House passed a similar bill last session, but the Senate postponed action on it until this year. Neither the latest House bill nor the one passed last year would relax federal prohibitions such as banning felons from carrying weapons. Vermont, Arizona and Alaska don’t require a permit.
Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate said that would make it hard to stop people who wouldn’t qualify for a weapon, such as convicted criminals.
Vermont, Arizona and Alaska don’t require a permit.
Supporters argue they have a constitutional right to carry a gun without a license.
The third bill would loosen a 74-year-old ban on loaded rifles and shotguns in vehicles. Weapons inside vehicles would be allowed to contain clips of ammunition as along as no bullets were loaded into the firing chamber.
Supporters say if no round is in the chamber, it can’t be discharged but could still be used for defense. They say the bill also would let people do what they want on their own land.
Opponents argue that is one step away from being ready to fire and creates a dangerous situation.
State police demonstrated that it only takes a few seconds to chamber a round.
“It is absurd to believe that a rifle with bullets in it is not really loaded. It takes a fraction of a second to move a round in the chamber of a rifle or a shotgun and shoot,” said Lynch.