HAMPTON — The town School Board is calling on lawmakers to support bills that prohibit guns in schools as the Legislature prepares to consider a bill giving school districts new authority in regulating firearms.
The board voted 5-0 Tuesday to send a letter with that message to state legislators. Member Frank DeLuca said the Legislature recently passed a bill outlawing guns on the House floor and believes it should continue work to tighten laws.
"We need to reiterate to our representatives that we are looking for a law to be passed (that says) no guns within a certain area of the school. Any school," said DeLuca.
Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said after the meeting the letter will offer a broad recommendation for gun legislation, but pointed out a relevant bill related to guns on school property has been filed this session.
The bill, filed by Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts, D-Portsmouth, would allow school districts, SAUs and chartered public schools to adopt and enforce a policy regulating firearms, firearms components, ammunition, firearms supplies, or knives within its jurisdiction. Cali-Pitts said she strongly opposes the sale of firearms like AR-15s and bump stocks, but filing this bill would likely be a more successful attempt to tighten gun laws in New Hampshire.
Federal law allows local governing bodies to prohibit firearms on school property so long as state law allows those local entities like school boards to enact those bans, according to Hampton Police Chief Richard Sawyer. In New Hampshire, state law gives no such authority to local school boards, which Sawyer said means people can technically carry guns into schools. He said school administrators can require their staff and students not bring weapons into school buildings, but without a change in state law, they cannot prohibit residents from doing so.
The debate over local authority to ban guns at schools has led to Statehouse fights in prior sessions. A bill filed last session sought to fine schools and municipal officials up to $5,000 for enacting their own gun bans. The bill, which did not pass, had language stating a "growing number of towns and local boards" were violating New Hampshire law giving the state jurisdiction over firearms. It cited an attempt by the Lebanon School Board to enact an "illegal ban" on firearms on school property.
Rep. Tom Loughman, one of the Democrats who swept Hampton's four seats representing House Rockingham District 21, said he supports allowing school boards to establish their own firearm policies. He said he also believes that, in places like schools and the House chamber, people other than trained security should not be armed.
"We do this in courtrooms and airports for good reason," said Loughman. "Allowing just anyone to have guns in schools introduces the risks of an untrained individual mishandling the weapon and causing harm, as well as a child finding the weapon and accidental discharge."
The School Board's letter comes as the school district works in other ways to ramp up security measures in the district. The board voted Tuesday to put a warrant article for $100,000 to add a third school resource officer, allowing one officer to monitor each of the three SAU 90 schools – Marston School, Centre School and Hampton Academy.
Murphy said the current board has made school safety a priority since they began working together. She said member Charlotte "Peppa" Ring first expressed concern for guns on school property when the issue of guns at the voting polls came up. Recent upgrades have also included new security cameras and more secure entrances with card-readers, she said.
"This board has always had security as one of their focus points in terms of goals," said Murphy. "Without a safe environment, learning isn't optimum. That's been their mantra for as long as they've been serving."