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Gun advocates up in arms over change in application
Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of safety, who approved the new form, said one change was made on the advice of the Attorney General's Office, after a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in May.
State law says authorities "shall" issue a license allowing someone to carry a concealed, loaded pistol or revolver "if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear injury to the applicant's person or property or has any proper purpose, and that the applicant is a suitable person to be licensed. Hunting, target shooting, or self-defense shall be considered a proper purpose."
Upheld chief's decision
In a May 16 order, the Supreme Court noted the vagueness of that language when it affirmed a lower court's decision to uphold the Hooksett police chief's decision to deny a man's license application.
But the Supreme Court found that wording "would remove all discretion to deny the application of a person not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal or state law."
That's not how lawmakers wrote the statute, the court said. "The Legislature easily could have drafted the statute in this manner if, indeed, it intended to deprive issuing authorities of any discretion over determining the suitability of an applicant. We conclude that such a 'rule' would impermissibly modify the statute."
"Those extra questions don't enhance safety, and if we're interested in enhancing safety, there are better ways to do that," he said.
The three new questions were meant to be "helpful" to those issuing licenses, Sweeney said. But the one about what a federal agency may have "claimed," he said, is "a stupid question, really."
Hoell not only criticized the "radical changes" to the form, but the process by which it was adopted. He contends the new form should have gone through the rule-making process, with public hearings and input. "I think the process is a complete violation of public trust," he said.
"The bottom line is that we certainly had no intention to pull a fast one on people or take away anybody's right to have a license to carry," he said. "And we certainly, I think, should have looked at it more closely before we changed it."
In the future, he said, "We certainly will get some wide input and give advance notice before we make another change like that."
Alan Rice serves on the NHFC board of directors. He said the changes to the form represent "a radical departure" from past applications.
But Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate Jr., president of New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said the state has some of the most liberal gun-permitting laws in the nation.
And that has happened enough, he said, that chiefs are pretty restrained about denying applications. He said chiefs in Salem and Lebanon in the past have had to issue concealed-carry licenses to known members of the Hell's Angels because they did not have felony convictions that would have barred them.
In his eight years as chief, Crate recalls only a single instance in which he denied a license; the applicant was a convicted felon.
Sweeney said he believes the language of the gun-license law was intentionally vague. "Because you can't predict every single situation that might arise, and so I think it does give them some flexibility. But it also adds the protection that if someone appeals and a judge agrees and thinks the chief ... made the wrong decision, the judge can order the license to be issued."
But in the meantime, he said, the previous license form was working fine and should be restored. "Lots of people are carrying lots of guns and there's not a lot of crime here, so something's working," he said.
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