Despite Storm, Gun Free School Zone Debate Rolls On At N.H. State House

Mar 13, 2018

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Social studies teacher Rob Nadeau’s journey to the New Hampshire State House began last fall in his Hopkinton Middle High School classroom. While teaching an Intro to Law class, he said he noticed his students were shocked to learn that in New Hampshire, permitted gun owners were allowed to bring their firearms into a school building. 

Even his fellow teachers and school administrators were surprised to hear this news.

So Tuesday, Nadeau trudged through the latest winter snowstorm to Concord, where he told a panel of lawmakers that school boards should have the right to ban guns from their school buildings and buses.

“A long time ago, somebody told me, 'Rob if you want to do your job well, kids have to know you care,'” he told lawmakers. “And boy, I’ll tell you, kids are nervous right now, they’re nervous all the time. Teachers are nervous, it’s not fun going to school.”

Nadeau was among a handful of New Hampshire residents and lawmakers who came to the statehouse Tuesday to share their opinions on SB 357, a proposal from Sen. Martha Hennessey that would amend the state constitution to give school boards the option to ban guns from school buildings and buses. Despite the storm, the panel of lawmakers who presided over the public hearing listened to nearly 2 hours of testimony and said their inboxes were flooded with emails about the bill.

Despite heavy snow and winds, retired school administrator Susan Ford drove all the way from Easton, a small town near Franconia, to tell lawmakers that she believes school boards know what’s best for their school.

“I’ve been in schools all the way from Lancaster down to Winnisquam and Tilton. They’re all very, very different,” Ford told lawmakers.  

Other supporters of Hennessey’s proposal included high school students who told lawmakers they're in constant fear of gun violence, and parents who said guns at school would just add more volatility to a potential mass shooting. The executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association said his group supports the bill primarily because it gives school boards more flexibility.

 

Many opponents to the bill also made the long, snowy journey to the State House. New Hampshire Firearms Coalition President Alan Rice showed up to the hearing armed. Rice accused lawmakers of using the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, as “justification to curtail the 2nd Amendment rights of otherwise law abiding citizens.”

 

“It’s immoral to curtail the rights of the law abiding based on the criminal acts of others,” Rice said.  

Rice says he collected over 700 signed petitions from other opponents to the bill. The NHFC has been sending emails to members, encouraging them to show up at Tuesday's hearing or email lawmakers about their concerns with the bill. In the latest email, Rice told supporters, “It is us the advocates for firearms ownership and use who get to decide what is and what is not anti-gun; not politicians who, in most cases are thinking about the next election and are not truly 100% committed to the right to keep and bear arms.”

It’s unclear if Governor Chris Sununu supports the proposal. In a statement, his spokesman said the governor “is focused on making New Hampshire’s schools the safest in the nation” and said more details on specific proposals would come Wednesday before his administration’s new School Safety Taskforce meeting.