Guns are offered for sale at the Bangor Gun Show at the Bangor Auditorium in this Sept. 12, 2009, file photo. Credit: Kevin Bennett

CONCORD, New Hampshire — A discussion about destroying guns provoked strong emotions Tuesday at a public hearing where both sides stumbled over the facts.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony on a bill that would allow state agencies to destroy weapons voluntarily surrendered by the public. Current law prohibits state police and other state agencies from operating such programs and instead requires them to sell such firearms at auction or keep them for their own use.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing, said his goal was to prevent the practice of “murderabilia.”

“It’s when someone takes instruments and things related to killers and makes it an object of desire to buy and sell and hold as trophies,” said Cushing, D-Hampton, whose father was murdered in 1988. “The idea that we would venerate and celebrate weapons that kill people is incredibly disturbing.”

But the law in question only pertains to voluntarily surrendered weapons, not those used in the commission of crimes. Rep. Jason Janvrin, who opposes the bill, brought up the case of Pamela Smart, whose husband was shot to death by her teenage lover in 1990. The murder weapon belonged to Vance Lattime, the father of a teen accomplice, and a few years ago, he went to court to get it back.

Janvrin said that gun “will remain in police custody forever,” but that’s not true. While the state objected, a judge ruled that Lattime could get his gun back.

Doug Marino, the advocacy director for 603 Forward, which encourages political activism among young professionals, said it’s appropriate for the state to provide a safe option for those who may want to surrender guns, but may not have the ability to destroy them safely themselves.

But former state Sen. David Wheeler, R-Milford, who wrote the law the current bill seeks to repeal, said there’s no reason for the state to get involved.

“If someone wants to give up their gun and wants to chop it up themselves, I’m not sure a Second Amendment right is violated, but certainly the government should not be involved in destroying perfectly good firearms,” he said.