It’s now legal to carry a concealed loaded gun in New Hampshire without a license.
In his first bill signing since taking office, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed so-called constitutional carry into law Wednesday.
“It is common-sense legislation,” he said during a ceremony in Executive Council chambers. “This is about making sure that our laws on our books are keeping people safe while remaining true to the live-free-or-die spirit.”
The moment marked a GOP victory a week after the bruising defeat of right-to-work, one of Sununu’s top priorities. Republicans in control of the Legislature have sought to repeal the licensing requirement in recent years, but Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan consistently vetoed the change, saying it threatened to weaken public safety.
Cheers erupted from dozens of supporters who crowded around Sununu on Wednesday as he sat at a long wooden table and put pen to paper. Afterward, the governor posed for pictures.
The new law makes the concealed-carry license optional, instead of mandatory. The state is at least the 11th to enact such a policy, according to a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.
New Hampshire is already an open-carry state, meaning anyone who legally owns a gun can carry it exposed without any license or permit.
In the past, gun owners have had to apply for a concealed-carry license with their local police chiefs, who determined whether applicants were “suitable.” The license came up for renewal every four years and was one of the only times gun owners in New Hampshire underwent a review process after initially purchasing a firearm.
Critics argued the process was too subjective because “suitability” could be interpreted differently by police chiefs.
“We have seen substantial abuse of the current statutes by various police departments,” said Republican Rep. JR Hoell, of Dunbarton.
No statewide data exists showing how many licenses were denied each year, but police chiefs have testified that they reject very few. Members of law enforcement have opposed the change, saying the licensing process is a way to prevent bad actors from carrying concealed guns and gives needed discretion to chiefs.
“This bill will eliminate the state’s longstanding permitting system and prevent local law enforcement from making important determinations that help keep guns out of dangerous hands,” Joseph Plaia, a Portsmouth police commissioner and member of Granite State Coalition for Common Sense, said in a statement.
Under the new law, anyone who can legally possess a gun under state and federal law can carry it concealed in a purse, car or briefcase without a license. State statute bars convicted felons or people subject to restraining orders from possessing a gun. Under federal law, drug users, fugitives and people convicted of certain domestic violence crimes, among others, cannot have firearms.
The state’s licensing process will remain in place so people who want to carry concealed outside state lines can get the necessary paperwork. Nonresidents who wish to carry concealed guns in New Hampshire would no longer need to get a license from state police, according to the bill’s fiscal note. The new law took effect immediately.
New Hampshire follows a number of other states that have recently eliminated licensing requirements, including Idaho, Mississippi and neighboring Maine.
Maine’s permitless carry, signed in 2015, applies to residents over age 21 and requires residents tell police they have a concealed weapon if pulled over, according to the Portland Press Herald.
New Hampshire’s law does not include a so-called duty-to-inform provision nor any specific age restrictions. Federal law bars minors from possessing handguns, but not long guns.
The head of the state Democratic party criticized Sununu for making the bill such a priority.
“The governor claims concealed carry is about ‘safety,’ but he is making it harder for law enforcement officials to keep track of guns that fall into the wrong hands,” Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “New Hampshire has imminent issues that need the Governor’s attention, but further relaxing the state’s notoriously lax gun laws is not one of them.”