New Hampshire could become only the fifth state in the country to let people carry concealed guns without a permit.
The House yesterday voted 193-122 to make gun permits optional. Members also voted 204-110 to allow loaded rifles and shotguns in motor vehicles, as long as there is not a round in the chamber.
Gov. John Lynch has said he would veto both bills should they land on his desk, and the bill regarding permits has already faced a challenge in the Senate.
Under that bill, residents wouldn't need a permit to carry a concealed weapon in New Hampshire, but getting one would allow them to bring their guns to states that do require permits
Vermont, Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming are the only states without a permit requirement. In addition to New Hampshire, Montana, Utah and South Carolina are also considering dropping permit requirements.
The bill's supporters cited Vermont as a state to emulate because it, like New Hampshire, is ranked by the FBI as one of the nation's safest states.
"Vermont has had this fundamental freedom for over 100 years without any problems," Republican Rep. Mark Warden of Goffstown said.
Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat, asked whether eliminating permits would make it legal for gang members from Massachusetts to enter the state with concealed guns.
A House member responded, "Is there a possibility that gangs from Lawrence and Lowell are packing heat right now despite the law?"
Democratic Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, a retired U.S. marshal from Concord, reminded representatives that law enforcement officials are opposed to the bill. He also said local authorities should retain the right to decide who in their communities can safely carry a concealed weapon.
"They know the problems with alcohol or some form of dementia," Shurtleff said. "Chiefs told me it's not uncommon for family members to call and say their father or mother or brother wants a permit, 'But please don't give it to them. They have some issues.' "
The bill's supporters and gun owners' groups argue that the right to bear arms is just that - a right - and not a privilege to be granted or denied by a local police chief. Shurtleff said yesterday it's rare for the police to deny a permit request.