The Bulletin Board

Sununu signs bill barring state enforcement of federal firearms laws

By: - June 27, 2022 3:26 pm

The new statute will prevent New Hampshire State Police and local law enforcement from cooperating in FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms investigations into federal firearms rules. (Ron Bailey | Getty Images)

Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill barring state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal firearms statutes and rules Friday, handing a victory to firearms rights groups that have bristled at recent federal gun regulations.

In signing House Bill 1178, Sununu created a new statute prohibiting any representative of the state or a political subdivision from taking action involving any federal firearms law that is not consistent with state law. 

The bill prohibits state and local employees from “using any personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer, or cooperate with any law, act, rule, order, or regulation of the United States Government or Executive Order of the President of the United States.” The bill defines any federal law or rule that does not explicitly appear in state statute as “inconsistent” for the purposes of the statute, a definition that encompasses many federal firearms laws and regulations.

Democrats had opposed the bill, arguing it would interfere with meaningful enforcement of firearms regulations.

The new statute will prevent New Hampshire State Police and local law enforcement from cooperating in FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms investigations into federal firearms rules such as the ban on “bump stocks,” the Trump administration’s prohibition on devices that allow semi-automatic pistols and firearms to fire continuously, similar to an automatic weapon. And the statute could prevent cooperation in the enforcement of proposed Biden administration rules and regulations against “ghost guns” and a pending rule that would bar handgun braces. 

But the new law does not prevent federal agents from continuing those investigations on their own and making arrests in New Hampshire.

And it doesn’t always stop state and local law enforcement from assisting federal agencies in those investigations. The law contains an exemption: as long as there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is also committing an unrelated violation in state law, or a non-firearms-related violation in federal law, state and local law enforcement can participate. 

Firearms rights groups have endorsed the bill, even as some have expressed frustrations that that exemption reduces its impact. 

“New Hampshire has a proud tradition of responsible firearms stewardship, and I’ve long said that I’m not looking to make any changes to our laws,” Sununu said in a statement Friday. “This bill will ensure that New Hampshire’s law enforcement efforts will be on our own state firearms laws – and that’s where I believe their focus should be.”

But firearms safety advocates and Democrats have railed against the bill, arguing it will stymie necessary federal investigations. And they said Sununu’s vow to focus on state firearms laws contradicted his stance in 2018, when the federal bump stock ban was being proposed by the ATF. The governor said then that a ban on bump stocks was best enacted on the federal level. 

“New Hampshire statute is silent in numerous important areas regarding firearms, and just a few years ago Governor Sununu said that ‘the federal level is the appropriate place’ for firearms legislation,” said House Democratic Leader David Cote, a Nashua Democrat. 

“Sununu’s sudden reversal will make it more difficult for law enforcement to work with the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and bring justice to crime victims in New Hampshire,” he said.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]