Opinion: Are They For Us or Against Us?
It is time for Gov. Margaret Hassan, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Rep. Anne Kuster, and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter to break their silence over their party’s latest efforts to restrict the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. They all claim to represent a state that considers gun ownership to be an essential right, yet not one of them has spoken out against the proposed federal legislation that would curtail the rights of law-abiding New Hampshire citizens to own guns of their choosing.
While not often remarked upon, New Hampshire has an interesting history when it comes to the constitutional right to bear arms. Unlike the bill of rights to the federal constitution, New Hampshire’s bill of rights did not expressly include a right to keep and bear arms until 1982. That isn’t because the framers of the state constitution thought that gun ownership was unimportant to the preservation of liberty. On the contrary, the framers counted the right to bear arms as among the “natural, essential, and inherent rights” held by all of mankind. Part 1, Article 2 of the New Hampshire Constitution included among these natural rights “the enjoying and defending life and liberty.”
For nearly 200 years, the citizens and government of New Hampshire understood that gun ownership was one of the natural rights of the people. Among the many casualties of the steady deterioration of education in our country, however, has been the imperative that each successive generation be instructed in the meaning and purpose of the founding principles. One of the consequences of purging the intellectual underpinnings of our constitution from the curriculum has been that previously unimaginable attempts to restrict constitutional rights began to gain ground.
Among these was “gun control.” As a result, in 1982 the citizens of New Hampshire made explicit what had for generations been commonly understood by adopting Part 1, Article 2-a of the constitution. That article provides, “All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property, and the state.” With this amendment the people affirmed that, in New Hampshire, gun ownership is an individual right.
Of course, the U.S. Congress can effectively ignore the rights recognized by New Hampshire’s constitution by passing legislation such as that being proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and President Obama. Under the U.S. Constitution, federal law is the “supreme law of the land.” Gov. Hassan, Sen. Shaheen, Rep. Kuster, and Rep. Shea-Porter have all tried to keep their heads down and avoid taking a position on their party’s most recent attack on gun rights. Their silence, however, amounts to acquiescence in a federal invasion of rights guarantied by the New Hampshire Constitution.
It takes courage to oppose members of your own political party, particularly when the president is among those you are challenging. But it is rank cowardice to stand by while others in your party work diligently to take away rights that the State of New Hampshire guaranties to its citizens. If our elected representatives won’t speak out against a calculated federal infringement of our state constitutional rights, we need to replace them with someone who will.
Bryan Gould is a lawyer in Concord. He bought his first firearm in November of 2008.