NH gun license form must change, critics say
But that's not good enough, some say.
And RSA 159:6 says local officials "shall issue" a license "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."
"Proper purpose" and "suitable person" are not further defined. And that's the crux of the controversy over the new license form.
Until recently, the reverse side of the form included a summary of "salient points" in state gun laws, including this: "Applicants not prohibited under federal or NH law from possession of a firearm shall be deemed suitable persons and the license shall be issued unless the applicant is so prohibited from possessing a firearm."
Issues arose after court case
Hoell said the form could be changed either through legislative rule-making or legislation. But he said the previous language, which had been on the form since 2003, needs to be restored until that can happen.
The court wrote that the petitioner had not shown that the Department of Safety had rule-making authority over resident gun licenses. Even if the wording on the back could be considered an administrative rule, such rules "may not add to, detract from or modify the law they are intended to implement."
"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."
Gun-rights supporters said the question was "unanswerable," and last week Sweeney agreed. He told the Sunday News the form will be modified, and the new questions removed, "as quickly as possible."
In changing the form, he said, officials "had no ulterior motive to abridge any of the rights expressed in the U.S. or State Constitutions."
Concord attorney Penny Dean, who has been defending gun rights in New Hampshire courts for many years, also met with Sweeney last week. She, too, said her concerns were not allayed.
"Here's the really sad thing: It is not he who is the maker of the law who is the true giver of law; it's he who has interpreted the law."
The previous language on the back of the form, she said, was not about making rules. "It's putting out in plain language for the average citizen what the law says and means," she said.
She said the court's "tortured and twisted and outcome-determinative interpretation of the law" may provoke an unintended consequence: More people will choose to openly carry their guns, which does not require a license in this state.
And that is likely to provoke more confrontations with police, Dean said, as people unfamiliar with the laws report people for carrying guns into stores and other public places.
Meanwhile, Hoell said he plans to file legislation that would define "suitable person" in the law.
And he said what the Department of Safety did may backfire. "I think their efforts to try to maintain some level of discretion ... will actually hurt them," he said. "Because there will be a great clamor amongst the gun owners to replace the current system with constitutional carry - no license required."