On Friday, June 24, 2022, Governor Sununu signed House Bill 1178 into law. HB 1178 prohibits the State of New Hampshire, counties, towns, and school districts from enforcing or cooperating with any federal law, rule, regulation, or executive order “that is inconsistent with any law of this state regarding the regulation of firearms, ammunition, magazines or the ammunition feeding devices, firearm components, firearms supplies, or knives.”
Unfortunately, current state law only forbids students from possessing firearms on school grounds, and there is no state law of general application regulating the possession or use of any kind of weapon (including firearms) on school grounds. Additionally, in 2018, several school districts were informed by the Attorney General’s Office that, under New Hampshire law, only the State Legislature can regulate firearms. Then in 2019, Governor Sununu vetoed a bill prohibiting the possession of firearms on school grounds.
So where does this leave New Hampshire school districts? The Gun Free School Zones Act, which deems it unlawful for any individual to possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of school property, is regulated and enforced by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). At the time of this alert, it is our understanding that ATF’s New Hampshire Field Office is still awaiting guidance with respect to HB 1178 and its implications.
With regard to general education students, RSA 193:13, IV – which requires the expulsion of a pupil for knowingly possessing a firearm in a safe school zone without written authorization from the superintendent or designee – is not impacted by the passage of HB 1178 – because RSA 193:13, IV is current state law.
On July 14, 2022, the State Attorney General’s Office provided Interim Guidance regarding the passage of HB 1178 and the procedure for responses to any threats at schools. The gravamen of that guidance is that school district employees and members of the public continue to be authorized “to contact state or local law enforcement if they perceive a threat (regardless of whether that threat involves a firearm), and state and local law enforcement have always had the authority to respond to such calls.” I spoke with Senior Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead on July 14th and he assured me that the Attorney General’s Office is currently in the process of preparing more in-depth guidance for schools in light of the passage of HB 1178.
In the interim, school districts continue to have the duty and obligation to maintain and implement policies to keep employees safe at work.1 Accordingly, school districts should carefully review their dangerous weapons policies in the context of both staff and students (it has been our experience that in most school districts, the dangerous weapons policy is only located in the “student” section of the school board policy manual) to determine if there is language prohibiting staff from having dangerous weapons at school.
In addition, we recommend that school districts take the following steps this summer:
- Review and update your active shooter and lock-down protocols.
- Communicate with local and state law enforcement to discuss this change to the law and develop a clear action plan for your community.
- Provide training to administration and staff on responding to active shooter and other threats (such as ALICE training).
- Remind all employees, students, and members of the community to continue to follow the principle of “see something, say something” as a critical component of protecting public safety, particularly in our schools.
Please do not hesitate to contact our attorneys if you have any additional questions or concerns.
1 Brendan O’Connor v. Manchester Housing & Redevelopment Authority, No. 216-2019-CV-00186 (N.H. Super. Ct., 2019) (Order on Motion to Dismiss) (internal quotations omitted). In a 2019 case handled by this firm, a NH Superior Court affirmed that employment contracts do not qualify as unlawful ordinances or regulations within the meaning of RSA 159:26.” RSA 159:26 prohibits political subdivisions from regulating matters pertaining to firearms.