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Concealed-carry law needs clarification
May 15. 2007 8:00AM
The perennial debate over the role of guns in the Live Free or Die state has bloomed again. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a Dover man whose permit to carry a concealed weapon was revoked after he plunked his loaded gun down on the Dover city attorney's desk to make a point.
Edward Bleiler argued through his attorney that the revocation of his permit by Dover's police chief infringed on his constitutional rights. But as one justice pointed out, revoking the permit does not prevent Bleiler from either owning a handgun or carrying one openly. But we'll leave the debate over how broadly the Second Amendment's right to bear arms clause should be interpreted for another day.
What police chiefs, lawyers and gun-rights advocates agree on is that the state's law governing concealed weapons is hopelessly vague and in need of clarification. They're right. Lawmakers should begin working now on a revised law that lets everyone, police chiefs, gun owners, judges and the public, know where things stand.
Gun-rights advocates believe the existing law gives local police chiefs way too much latitude to deny permits. Chiefs say it doesn't even give them discretion to say no to people they know have an irascible disposition, a short fuse and what they suspect are undiagnosed mental problems. Nor does the law define what actions or facts constitute "just cause" for revoking a permit.
Displaying a gun to intimidate in an otherwise non-threatening situation, for example, should be reason enough to revoke a permit. So should carrying a loaded weapon, concealed or unconcealed, while intoxicated, or otherwise engaging in reckless or negligent behavior with it.
Concealed weapon permit laws probably have no more than a minor effect on either crime levels or public safety. The inverted state immediately to the west allows anyone to pack heat, no permit needed, yet like New Hampshire, it remains one of the safest in the nation. Since an applicant has to pass a criminal background check to get a concealed weapon permit, virtually all permit holders are law-abiding, and shooting incidents involving permit holders are rare. New Hampshire is unusual, however, in being one of the few states where the legal presumption is that a permit will be granted to anyone with three references for virtually any reason unless the applicant is a felon or has a history of mental illness or domestic violence. It is also odd in setting no age limit to get a permit: Most states require an applicant to be at least 18.
A model concealed weapon law would require that applicants take and pass a course in gun safety, prove that they can shoot accurately and learn that displaying a gun may make violence more, not less, likely and that shooting someone will change their own life far more than they can imagine.
The last thing a career criminal or someone with disdain for the law will care about when he decides to hide a loaded gun in his pants is a permit. Violating that law, after all, is a misdemeanor.
So even the toughest of concealed weapon rules aren't going to affect the bad guys. But if New Hampshire is going to have a law at all, it ought to be a good one: clearly written, easily understood and fairly applied.
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