While Republican lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their opposition to gun-regulation measures in the N.H. House this legislative session, the view on the Democratic side was more nuanced.
An analysis of voting records shows that a relatively small group of Democratic representatives, some from the Monadnock Region, opposed one or more of these measures or were absent when their fate was decided in the House, where Republicans hold a razor-thin majority.
The Republican majority killed bills this session that would have banned guns from polling places and school zones, mandated a three-day waiting period when purchasing them, taken them away from people judged a danger to themselves or others, required safer storage and tightened background checks.
Much of this legislation was written in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the one-year anniversary of which was commemorated Wednesday.
Rep. Jonah Wheeler, D-Peterborough, said in an interview Wednesday he voted against some of these bills because he wanted to protect legitimate rights of people to be armed.
“It’s not that I’m a gun nut, I’m not,” said Wheeler, who is in his first term and at age 20 is one of the youngest representatives in New Hampshire. ”I’m looking at the legislation as presented, and some of the legislation had flaws.”
On March 9, he and Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, were among only five Democrats who voted against House Bill 106, a so-called “red-flag” measure that would have allowed a court to issue a temporary order preventing a person from having a firearm if judged a danger to themselves or others.
Twenty-one Democrats and seven Republicans were absent or otherwise didn’t participate in the 198-172 vote by which it was defeated.
Wheeler said the bill could have caused some people to lose their guns when they didn’t pose a risk.
“How do you define someone who is a mental health risk?” he asked. “How do you define someone who is a red flag?
“You could come up with some obvious general examples. But when you start getting a little bit more specific about that, and you talk about how the history of how mental health was defined in this country, the history of how Black people were treated, it becomes pretty obvious that there are some serious flaws.”
Leishman co-sponsored House Bill 59, which was intended to tighten background-check requirements before gun purchases.
The measure, which Wheeler supported, was backed by all but three Democrats in the House and opposed by all but one Republican. It failed 197-175 on March 9. Twenty Democrats and six Republicans were absent from the vote.
Leishman and Wheeler also supported House Bill 351, which would have tightened laws on safe storage of firearms. The House defeated it 203-182 in a largely partisan vote on March 22. All Republicans but two voted against it. Eleven Democrats opposed it.
On March 16, Leishman, Wheeler and Renee Monteil, D-Keene, were among nine Democrats who voted against House Bill 76, which would have mandated a 72-hour waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm. It contained an exception for people with a reasonable fear for their personal safety, expressed to a law-enforcement officer.
Twenty-one Democrats and 16 Republicans were absent from the vote. It was defeated, 193-168.
“To me, if someone has a clean record and there are no issues, they probably shouldn’t have to wait three days in New Hampshire when they can go to Maine or another state and acquire a gun,” Leishman said Thursday.
Wheeler agreed, saying there are simply times when people have a pressing and legitimate need to be able to purchase a gun without waiting.
Monteil was not immediately reachable for comment.
Proponents said the measure would give people a chance to cool off if their intent was to harm themselves or others with a gun.
Wheeler was one of five Democrats who opposed House Bill 32, which would have generally prohibited some members of the public from having a firearm within 1,000 feet of a public or private school. There were a number of exceptions written into the measure.
He was also among 13 Democrats who opposed a proposed prohibition on firearms in polling places, House Bill 444.
The House defeated both measures.
Wheeler said many people carry guns in this state and do so in a safe manner.
“If you know anything about gun safety, in terms of actually taking a class, the safest place for the gun, if you are to have one, is not in your car or anywhere loose, it is on your person, on your hip, concealed, with a person who is trained to have it,” he said. “I support people being trained with the weapon.”
In 2017, the first bill Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law after becoming governor made it legal to carry a concealed, loaded gun in New Hampshire without a license or training.
Gun-safety bills would have to pass not only the House but the Senate — where Republicans hold a solid 14-10 majority — in order to make it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed.
Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, who is in his third term, is one of the most vehement advocates for gun-violence prevention bills in the N.H. Legislature.
He said the Democratic Party in the state is gaining more unanimity on the issue and does not criticize fellow Democrats who feel differently about this legislation.
Meuse noted that when Democrats held a majority in the Legislature in 2019, lawmakers did pass a few such bills only to see them vetoed by Sununu.
“I do think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “In a Legislature that maybe leans a little more Democratic and a little less Republican, we can get some of these over the top again.”
Wheeler, I hope you are a gun nut. Because your kids are going to grow up with those votes you just cast. Historical views on mental health aren't what's up for debate right now. What we're thinking about is -right now-. The reason this topic exists in the political arena is because there are shootings every day. Mass shootings. Those didn't coexist with the history you are citing, bc these guns didn't exist. Educate yourself before running again.
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