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Gun advocates testify on both sides of background check bill

April 28, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — With gun sales on the rise, Second Amendment advocates in New Hampshire are divided over a bill that would eliminate the state’s role in conducting background checks for those purchasing handguns.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on a Senate-passed bill that would abolish the state police “gun line,” and instead put the FBI solely in charge of performing background checks using the National Information Criminal Background System.

County sheriff’s offices, however, would use the system to perform searches related to the return of guns to people who are the subject of protective orders for domestic violence or stalking.

Supporters of the bill, including the National Rifle Association, argued that the current system frequently results in lengthy delays and that the state is wasting money on a task the federal government already handles for most other states.

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“We are spending state tax dollars, using state employees, state resources and state computers to perform a federally mandated task that the federal government will perform free of charge in a more expeditious manner,” said Alan Rice, state director of Gun Owners of America, at the hearing.

Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn said the department struggled in 2020 because handgun sales increased by nearly 65% and the coronavirus pandemic sometimes led to staffing shortages. Without taking a position on the bill, Quinn noted that state police perform extra research that would not happen if the bill passes, and said the department has made changes to better manage the backlog.

“The gun line is no longer broke,” said Executive Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford. “The problems have been virtually fixed.”

Wheeler, a founder of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, said state police do a better job investigating possible cases of mistaken identity and other issues. And if problems arise, they’re easier to correct at the state level, he said.

Joining him in opposing the bill was Pamela Keilig of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She said it would put victims of domestic violence and stalking at heightened risk of harm.

“Domestic violence offenders are the most likely to murder someone in this state, and this system is crucial to protect the lives of victims,” she said.

Rice, however, suggested victims shouldn’t look to the government for protection.

“If someone is a victim of violence, they should buy a gun, learn how to use it and take responsibility for their own personal safety,” he said. “Americans as a group are self-reliant. If you become reliant upon government, you generally lose.”