New Hampshire Bill Would Tie State Definition of Firearms to Federal Statute

CONCORD, N.H. (Jan. 10, 2018) – A bill introduced in the New Hampshire Senate would change the definition of a “firearm” in the state to coincide with federal statute. Passage of this bill would expand regulation of firearms accessories in New Hampshire and empower the federal government to indirectly dictate gun laws in the Live Free or Die State.

Sen. Kevin Avard (R-Nashua) and Rep. Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) introduced Senate Bill 500 (SB500). The legislation would allow people in New Hampshire to have loaded firearms in an unmoving vehicle. It would also allow bow hunting license holders to carry firearms while hunting. These changes would be small steps forward for New Hampshire gun owners, but the bill has a major problem buried in it. It would change the definition of firearm to coincide with the federal definition.

Under current New Hampshire law, “Firearm” means “any weapon, including a starter gun, which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by force of gunpowder.” If SB500 passes, “firearm” would have the meaning set forth in 18 U.S.C. section 921.

Gun Owners of America explained the impact of this change.

“If it does this, in addition to the weapon itself, New Hampshire’s definition of firearm would be newly amended to include “the frame or receiver of any such weapon, … any firearm muffler or firearm silencer, or … any destructive device…”

Practically speaking, by using the federal definition of firearm, SB500 would expand the power of state regulators over firearm suppressors. These devices simply muffle the sound of a gun. They do not literally silence firearms. Nevertheless, the federal government heavily regulates silencers under the National Firearms Act. GOA said giving the state the power to regulate silencers under state law would undermine efforts it is involved with at the federal level.

“We are making major strides toward removing suppressors from federal regulation under the NFA and under the 1968 Act.  So why would we take a step backward and newly bring suppressors within the scope of New Hampshire firearms regulation?”

Rep. JR Howell called tying the state definition of “firearm” to the federal statute “a horrible idea,” noting that it would drastically expand federal power over state law. The definition of a firearm in New Hampshire would change any time politicians in Washington D.C. decide to expand the federal definition. This would allow the feds to indirectly regulate firearms in New Hampshire simply by changing the wording of its statute.

“Linking state definitions to federal statutes is always a bad idea. Period,” Hoell said. “There is a clear Tenth Amendment issue at stake by tying our laws to the federal laws. It is very important that this bill be killed.”

WHAT’S NEXT

SB500 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the committee finds it “inexpedient to legislate,” it will make it much more difficult to pass in the full Senate.

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