ICYMI: NH Attorney General Releases Interim Guidance Potentially Invalidating Major Portions of HB 1178, An Extreme and Dangerous Gun Lobby Law Signed by Gov. Chris Sununu

ICYMI: NH Attorney General Releases Interim Guidance Potentially Invalidating Major Portions of HB 1178, An Extreme and Dangerous Gun Lobby Law Signed by Gov. Chris Sununu

New interim guidance from Attorney General’s office allows state and local police, school officials to respond to firearms related threats and to notify federal law enforcement, despite state law prohibiting cooperation and enforcement; public safety advocates hail interim guidance as victory

CONCORD, NH – In response to growing concerns and calls for guidance for state and local law enforcement and school officials in the wake of Governor Sununu’s signing of HB 1178, the New Hampshire Attorney General released interim guidance yesterday afternoon that appears to invalidate major portions of the extreme and dangerous gun lobby bill.

“This interim guidance provides state and local police and school officials with the initial support they need to respond to firearms threats and keep our schools and communities safe,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins of GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. “Despite Gov. Sununu signing into law a prohibition on cooperation or enforcement of federal firearms laws, the interim guidance by the State of New Hampshire and the NH Department of Education still directs state and local police and school staff to act swiftly in the presence of firearms. This is a relief to countless Granite Staters, who read the law and understood the very grave danger it posed to public safety. Under Governor Sununu and the radical right members of the state legislature, our public safety laws have been weakened tenfold. This interim guidance is an indication that those extreme views are far too dangerous to be fully implemented without putting our schools and communities at risk.”

GunSense NH notes that though the interim guidance provides hope for the public safety of Granite Staters, it also contains omissions and errors which may lead to further confusion:

  • The Interim Guidance is in conflict with the law as written, and provides conflicting guidance. HB 1178 (Chapter 258:1) states no person acting under the color of state, county, or municipal law may “enforce, administer, or cooperate with any law, act, rule, order, or regulation” of the federal law unless it is also in state law. In the interim guidance, the AG and NH Department of Education state: “Local and state law enforcement officers are empowered to respond to, investigate, and take action with respect to any potential threat to schools pursuant to their authority under the New Hampshire Criminal Code. The passage of HB 1178 does not alter this.”
  • Elsewhere, the Interim Guidance indicates state and local police cannot enforce federal laws to prevent guns in schools, leaving a major question about whether armed individuals are legally allowed to roam K-12 schools, disrupting learning and posing a threat. The interim guidance affirms both that “members of the public or school employees have always had the ability to contact state or local law enforcement if they perceive a threat … and state and local law enforcement have always had the authority to respond to such calls. This authority has not changed with the passage of HB 1178.” However, elsewhere the guidance asserts that “As our Office has previously advised, state and local officials generally do not possess the authority to enforce federal firearms laws, including the Gun Free Schools Act (sic), and that has not changed with the passage of HB 1178.”
  • The Interim Guidance letter mistakenly indicates that state and local police cannot enforce the Gun Free Schools Act, which is in federal and state law. The Gun Free Schools Act is a federal law also contained in N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 193-D:2 which prevents students from bringing firearms to campus. The federal Gun Free School Zones Act (not the Gun Free Schools Act) prohibits unlicensed individuals from bringing firearms into K-12 schools. There is no state equivalent law, and Gov. Sununu vetoed a bill which would have closed this gap. HB 1178, as written, prohibits state and local police and schools from enforcing the federal Gun Free School Zones Act. The Gun Free Schools Act should still be enforced under existing state law.

“While we are thankful that front line responders are being told to act, the interim guidance raises just as many questions as before, if not more, about what that means,” Rice Hawkins said. “This puts our responders and our community at risk when they have to make these decisions mid-crisis. We demand that the Sununu Administration urgently provide detailed guidance so that our law enforcement, school officials, and members of the public have a clear understanding of how this extreme law is being applied in New Hampshire. It is outrageous that Governor Sununu signed this bill into law without having a full understanding of its scope and a plan for how it would be implemented. Sununu had no other reason except for partisan political purposes to sign it when he did.”

Background: As written, HB 1178 prohibits the State of New Hampshire, counties, towns, and schools from enforcing or even cooperating with any federal law, rule, regulation, or executive order regarding firearms and knives unless it is also in state law. This leaves our schools and communities dangerously vulnerable and increases the risk of tragedy. New Hampshire already has several major gaps between federal and state firearms laws, including those around gun free schools and domestic violence protections. As signed into law, HB 1178 applies to any current federal laws, regulations, rules, or executive orders, as well as any in the future. It jeopardizes federal, state, and local collaboration and sends a dangerous message to criminals that New Hampshire does not enforce federal gun laws.