Frequently Asked Questions about Gun Laws in New Hampshire
Copyright © 2006-2013 by Sam Cohen; last revised September 4, 2013
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Since co-founding Pro-Gun New Hampshire in early 2006, I’ve answered all telephone calls, as well as website inquiries, to the organization; before that, from June 2002 until February 2006, I similarly returned all phone calls to Gun Owners of New Hampshire. The most common calls in both cases have been questions about New Hampshire gun laws, often asked by people from other states. I particularly enjoyed talking to people thinking about moving to New Hampshire from our neighboring state to the south, because if it was the first time they learned about our freedoms compared with the government restrictions in Massachusetts, they were like kids opening Christmas presents (or rather, dreaming about opening Christmas presents).
I’m not a lawyer and cannot offer legal advice, but it might be useful to present a summary of how I’ve answered typical questions about gun laws in New Hampshire. DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are mine only, and are not endorsed by any organization or other person. The contents of this article are not intended to be legal advice, and both Pro-Gun New Hampshire, Inc., and I disclaim any liability or responsibility for any use you may make of this article, or for any actions you may take or not take as a result of reading it. For legal advice, contact an attorney. (I recommend attorney Evan Nappen, the General Counsel and one of the five Directors of Pro-Gun New Hampshire; go to www.efnappen.com, or call 603/223-0001. Evan has 26 years of successful experience as a criminal defense attorney specializing in gun and knife law. He occasionally reviews this article, but I keep fiddling with it; in any case, you should take the above disclaimer seriously.)
To view New Hampshire’s state laws (RSAs, Revised Statutes Annotated) on line, go to the NH state government website, www.nh.gov, and click on “Laws & Rules” on the left side of the page; then click on "State Statutes Online." On the resulting page, "Browse" presents a sorted index of the RSAs, by number; "Search" allows you to search by word or phrase. Note that "Title" is a rough grouping by subject; the preferred RSA citation is by chapter (colon) section-within-chapter, such as RSA 159:6 (Chapter 159, Section 6).
Note to visitors to New Hampshire from other states: In general, anything in this article that applies to NH residents also applies to you, unless it’s obvious that it doesn’t (as with NH resident vs. non-resident Licenses to Carry, or federal laws about buying handguns as discussed in the first Q&A below).
Before we begin: It’s said in Communist countries that “that which isn’t permitted is forbidden.” (New Jersey actually works that way for gun laws; there, everything involving guns is basically illegal, unless you qualify for an exception.) But remember, laws merely say what’s illegal; if there’s no law against something, it’s legal. So don’t ask if there’s a law that “allows” something.
Q: What do I have to do to buy a gun in New Hampshire?
A: Go to a gun store, a gun show, or a private party selling a gun, and give them money.
If you buy a gun from a Federal Firearms Licensee (“FFL”) — that is, from a gun dealer/gun store, including from a licensed dealer at a gun show — federal laws apply to the purchase; in particular, you must be at least 18 years old to buy a rifle or shotgun from an FFL, and at least 21 years old to buy a handgun. (The age 21 restriction applies only to handgun purchases from FFLs, not from private parties, by the way. Age restrictions are further discussed in an appendix to this article.) Of course by law you can’t possess a gun if you’re a “prohibited person” — meaning someone who’s been convicted of a felony, or who’s been convicted of a misdemeanor “crime of domestic violence,” or who falls into certain other categories as well. (“Prohibited persons” are further discussed in another appendix to this article.) The FFL will conduct an “instant background check” by telephone to verify that you are not a “prohibited person.”
By federal law, you can buy a rifle or shotgun from an FFL in a state other than your state of residence and take possession of it immediately — "cash and carry." You can buy a handgun from an FFL in a state other than your state of residence, but that FFL must ship it to an FFL in your home state, where you can pick it up after filling out the same federal paperwork that applies to an in-state purchase. In both cases, the gun must be legal to purchase and possess in your home state — which means nothing for New Hampshire residents (because NH doesn't restrict what kind of guns you can have), but because states like Massachusetts and New Jersey limit the types and models of guns their residents can purchase and possess, visitors to NH from those states can't buy anything here that they couldn't buy in their home state.
New Hampshire residents can buy guns from other New Hampshire residents without government involvement. (See the next question, however.) By federal law, a person may not buy any gun from an out-of-state private party (non-FFL) without going through FFLs.
Note: Although it's not a legal requirement, it's a good idea to write a bill of sale for private gun sales, with both buyer's and seller's names, addresses, and (important!) signatures; information (including serial number) to identify the gun; and the date. (Also the price, if you want to make the document a receipt as well as a bill of sale; in that case, write "$xxx.xx payment in full received on this date" or something like that.) Each party keeps a copy. The idea here is that if that gun is used to shoot a little old lady or something, one of the parties can prove that he wasn't the owner of the gun at the time (which is why you should also write "the firearm was transferred on this date" or something similar). If it's a gift rather than a sale, call it a "record of transfer," or something similar, instead of a bill of sale. And no, there's no legal requirement to notify the police or anyone else (and they wouldn't know what to do with a copy of a bill of sale, anyway).
If you're a resident of another state who resides in (not just visits) New Hampshire part of the time (summer home, etc.), federal law considers you a resident of your home state when you actually reside there, and a resident of New Hampshire when you actually reside here. (See the Code of Federal Regulations, 27CFR478.11.) To buy a handgun in New Hampshire, ask the FFL what he or she requires in the way of documentation (utility bills, for example) to prove that you're a part-time NH resident.
Q: How do I get a license or a permit to buy a gun?
A: You don’t. New Hampshire doesn’t require you to have a license or a permit to buy or own guns, with one exception: if you buy a handgun (rather than a rifle or shotgun) from a private party — as opposed to a licensed dealer (FFL) — then by state law (RSA 159:14) you must either have a New Hampshire License to Carry or be “personally known” to the seller. That doesn't apply to rifles and shotguns, by the way, which can be bought and sold freely between NH residents, except for "prohibited persons."
Q: How do I register my guns?
A: You don't. Welcome to New Hampshire, where "Live Free or Die" is taken seriously, and you don't have to worry about people in uniform coming to your door to take your (registered) guns — because there’s no gun registration in this state. What you own is nobody else’s business.
Q: What about machine guns? Aren’t they registered?
A: OK, you got me. Even though there’s no state registration in New Hampshire, “machine guns” (full-auto or select-fire guns, including burst-mode capable guns), sound suppressors (“silencers”), short-barreled rifles (barrels under 16 inches) and shotguns (under 18 inches), handguns with shoulder stocks, and certain other unusual guns fall under federal law (The National Firearms Act of 1934 — the NFA) and involve special federal forms and fees. New Hampshire, unlike some other states, doesn’t prohibit NFA weapons.
Q: Do I need a license to carry a gun?
A: Yes, but only for these two purposes (per RSA 159:4): (1) to carry a LOADED handgun "concealed upon the person," other than in your home or place of business (where you can do so without a license); and (2) to have a LOADED handgun in a vehicle (whether the handgun is concealed or not — which is why the "Pistol/Revolver License" in your wallet doesn't say "concealed"). Note: Because someone was actually arrested for driving with an unloaded pistol in his glove compartment accompanied by its loaded magazine ADJACENT to it, the NH Supreme Court affirmed that "loaded" means what everyone knows it means: that the gun has live ammunition IN it. See our article posted on 8/7/13.
I’m not sure if riding a motorcycle or bicycle is considered being “in a vehicle”; maybe your lawyer can answer that, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s always wise to take a conservative approach to these questions.
Note that you may not have a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle, by the way (per fish and game law RSA 207:7 — where “vehicle” means a motor vehicle, aircraft, or powered or towed boat, but apparently not an unpowered rowboat or canoe).
The New Hampshire License to Carry is further discussed later in this article.
Q: If I transport a gun in a car, does it have to be locked in a case?
A: No. Unlike Massachusetts, New Hampshire doesn’t require you to transport your guns in a locked case, or any case at all, or even to conceal them from view (although prudence may suggest doing so to protect them from theft). Again, handguns in a vehicle must be unloaded unless you have a License to Carry, and rifles and shotguns in a vehicle must always be unloaded.
Q: Can I carry a pistol or revolver openly, say in an exposed belt holster?
A: Yes. Furthermore, you do not need a License to Carry (the piece of paper says “Pistol/Revolver License”) to carry a loaded handgun UNconcealed — that is, visible, for example in an exposed holster — unless you’re in a vehicle. (See the previous answer about vehicles.)
Keep in mind that some people may panic when they see a gun, and if they call the police, the police may come to investigate — but the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has made it clear that open carry is a right, and that another person’s “annoyance or alarm” (a phrase taken from the NH "Disorderly Conduct" law, RSA 644:2) does not supersede that right.
On the one hand, we will indeed lose our rights if we don’t exercise them, but on the other hand, it’s not smart to frighten or antagonize people, especially if you scare enough people to make the news — which may lead to legislation restricting open carry. Use good judgment. Hint: look and act like a responsible citizen. It helps to be neatly dressed. (Sure enough, because a bunch of people carrying openly were rowdy in the State House during a House vote on a states' rights bill in 2009, the legislature debated two gun-ban bills, one of them against open carry in all government buildings in the state. Both bills failed, but what a pain!) Also, from a practical (as opposed to “political”) point of view, if you’re carrying openly in a place where there might actually be an armed criminal attack, you’ll be the first target.
Digression: I shouldn't have to say this, but people new to guns (or not!) should be reminded that being armed is an awesome responsibility. Whether carrying openly or concealed (or just with a gun available), an armed person in any place or situation has to be extra careful in two ways:
(A) Safe GUN handling: (1) MAKE A HABIT of knowing that all guns are always loaded — never assume that one is not; (2) MAKE A HABIT of never letting a gun point at anything you're not willing to destroy (I train people to imagine a deadly laser beam coming out of the muzzle at all times); (3) MAKE A HABIT of never touching the trigger (keep your finger out of the trigger guard!) until and unless your sights are on the target and you're actually, intentionally firing a shot; and (4) MAKE A HABIT of, when you're preparing to shoot, being sure of your target: is that an armed home invader crouching in the dark, or is it your child? Also, for similar reasons, know where each bullet will end up if you miss your target or shoot through it.
(B) Safe PEOPLE handling: Avoid confrontations at all costs — no rude gestures, no shouting at anyone, etc., and remember that guns are, and should be, humbling; swallow your pride and stay out of prison. Avoidance is ALWAYS the best solution.
Deadly force is a deadly serious business, and shooting someone is a life-changing event. Everyone should read New Hampshire's laws on the subject — RSA Chapter 627, especially 627:4 — but the basic rule is that deadly force is an absolute last resort, when you or someone else is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury (including rape), or kidnapping, and there is no other choice. (No, you may NOT use deadly force in defense of property, except to prevent arson by a trespasser. See RSAs 627:7 and 627:8.)
Yes, New Hampshire has a "Stand Your Ground" law (despite failed anti-self-defense legislation in 2013 to repeal it) — which says if you're any place you have a right to be (not just in your home) you do not have a "duty to retreat" from an attack — but I sincerely hope people don't focus on that, because it does NOT affect the basic rules of deadly force. (Again, read RSA 627:4.) Remember: IMMINENT DANGER — ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT — NO OTHER CHOICE.
Note: The law does allow you to display a weapon to warn away a true deadly threat, but this too is serious business; if you display a gun to warn someone off, be prepared to spend your life savings on lawyers if you're forced to shoot. And if you provoked the threat, all legal defenses go out the window. Also, even if you didn't shoot, and were in the right to display a deadly weapon, you should immediately call the police to establish your innocence, because otherwise you might be accused of criminal threatening, which is a felony (see RSA 631:4).
Two further notes: do NOT fire a warning shot, and do NOT "shoot to wound." Both of these actions are uses of deadly force, and if you are not legally justified in using deadly force (see the above paragraph, and RSA 627:4), then you're looking at prison time. See RSA 631:3, "Reckless Conduct" (and yes, it's a felony).
Finally: whatever you see on TV or in movies about shooting, ignore it. It's fiction.
Q: Where can I and can I not carry? What about banks, bars, and hospitals? What about city/town halls, police stations, and state government offices?
A: The only state law restricting where you can carry is RSA 159:19, which doesn't allow guns in courthouses or courtrooms. RSA 159:26 (further discussed in the next question-and-answer) prohibits counties, cities, and towns from regulating guns and ammunition, so you can carry in your city or town hall, etc. And, there is no state statute prohibiting guns in state office buildings. (In 2004, I got a "No Firearms" sign removed from the Concord building that jointly housed the headquarters of two state government departments — Health and Human Services, HHS, and the Department of Environmental Services, DES.)
By federal law, there are two places where you can’t carry, but these federal laws are controversial; still, I advise people not to be the “test case” in federal court, because (a) if you lose in court, then you’re going to federal prison, and (b) if you win in court, Congress may well rewrite the law to be more restrictive, because they’re that way (and this actually happened in 1996; look up the 1995 US Supreme Court case United States v. Lopez). Here are the two federal laws:
(1) Title 18, United States Code, Section 930 prohibits firearms (and also knives with blades longer than 2-1/2 inches) in federal “facilities,” which word normally means buildings — and that includes post offices. The controversy arises over paragraph (d) of that section, which provides an exemption for “the lawful carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.” Note that despite the law, the Code of Federal Regulations says no guns are allowed, and you’ll find notices posted on the door threatening you with arrest. Note: a recent (2012) federal court case confirms that "federal facilities" can mean not just buildings, but in many cases any federal property, such as post office parking lots. Federal law defines federal facilities as places where federal activities occur, and in the recent court case, it was noted that mail trucks used a parking lot owned by the postal service.
(2) Title 18, United State Code, Section 922, subsection (q) is the Gun Free School Zones Act. You can’t have a gun in, on the grounds of, or within 1,000 feet of the property line of, an elementary or secondary school, whether public or private. (Note that this doesn’t include colleges or universities.)
18 USC 922 (q) includes exemptions for private property (i.e., you’re OK if your house is next to a school), for police officers on duty, for school-approved programs, and for unloaded guns in locked containers or locked gun racks. There’s also an exemption for people holding carry licenses, but only if state law requires that “before an individual obtains such a license, the law enforcement authorities of the State or political subdivision verify that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license.” Unfortunately, New Hampshire state law (RSA 159:6) arguably does NOT make the cut, in part because town selectmen and city mayors can issue carry licenses, and they’re not “law enforcement authorities,” and also because that RSA doesn't require law enforcement authorities to do anything. But even if your carry license was issued by a police chief, it may not protect you, because our state law doesn’t meet the requirements of the federal law.
This federal “Gun Free School Zones Act” is unpopular, and some people prefer to believe that New Hampshire’s carry licenses provide an exemption, despite the above analysis.** Further, nobody in New Hampshire has been arrested or prosecuted on the basis of this federal law. Still, you have to ask yourself if you want to be the test case.
** In 2006, I asked then-NH-Congressman Jeb Bradley to ask the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) for their reading on whether our NH License to Carry law, RSA 159:6, qualified to exempt license holders from the federal Gun Free School Zones Act. The then-Director of the ATF, Carl Truscott, wrote back on April 17 of that year and said that RSA 159:6 "would generally qualify as an exception." (He didn't explain what he meant by "generally.") Will the current ATF director be smarter than that? Who knows?
(Note that it’s been pointed out that it’s impossible to drive through many cities in the United States without violating this law, because you’re always close to some school. Fortunately, the law is rarely, if ever, enforced against people just driving through.)
So, to summarize: state law prohibits you from carrying in courtrooms and courthouses; federal law, though controversial, will have you arrested and prosecuted for carrying in federal buildings (including post offices) and in or (technically, at least) near elementary or secondary schools.
Besides all of this, on private property — including stores, theaters, restaurants, etc. — the property owner can set a “no guns” policy, ask you to leave if you’re carrying, and have you arrested for trespassing if you don’t leave, but otherwise you’re legal. (This is discussed further in an appendix to this article.)
Q: I’ve seen city and town parks and buildings with “no weapons” or “no firearms” signs. What about them?
A: I don’t know other “weapons,” but RSA 159:26, effective July 2003, declares that only the state (not cities or towns) may regulate firearms (and as of August 2011, knives), and that any city or town ordinances and regulations about guns are null and void, except for zoning (for gun businesses) and hunting. (Note: State Representative Elbert Bicknell introduced and promoted the legislation that became RSA 159:26. Bick was soon after elected president of Gun Owners of New Hampshire, and then in 2006, became the first president of Pro-Gun New Hampshire. State Representative Jenn Coffey, a Senior Advisor to PGNH, was responsible for adding knife rights in 2011.)
Q: How do I get a pistol permit in New Hampshire?
A: You can’t. There’s NO SUCH THING as a New Hampshire “pistol permit.”
OK, this was a trick question and answer, because it’s my pet peeve. Let me explain: While some other states issue “permits” for concealed carry, New Hampshire issues a license; both NH licensing law (RSA 159:6, "License to Carry") and the NH license itself (the "Pistol/Revolver License" in your wallet) are careful not to use the word “permit.”
Although “license” and “permit” have similar dictionary definitions (denotations), they have very different nuances of meaning (connotations). Language influences thought — as Rush Limbaugh says, "words mean things" — and if everyone keeps saying "permit," people get the idea that you need the government's "permission" to exercise a fundamental right. How would you feel if you had to ask the government not for a marriage license, but for a “Permit to Marry”? So, please don’t call our NH concealed carry license a “pistol permit” — that’s actually anti-liberty propaganda.
Now, see the next question-and-answer.
Q: How do I get a concealed carry license?
A: First, get an application form. You can get one from your town police department, or download a blank form from the Web at http://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/nhsp/ssb/permitslicensing/documents/dssp85.pdf. (The latest revision date as of January 2013 is 3/11 — found at the lower left corner of the form.) The form is only one page long; fill it out and give it to your police department. (In small towns without their own full-time police officers, the town selectmen issue carry licenses, unless they’ve arranged for the county sheriff to do so.) Note that the form asks “for what reason(s) do you make application to carry a pistol in New Hampshire?”; according to the law (RSA 159:6), “hunting, target shooting, or self-defense shall be considered a proper purpose. The license shall be valid for all allowable purposes regardless of the purpose for which it was originally issued.” (In other words, NH concealed carry licenses are unrestricted, unlike in some states whose licenses may say things like "for hunting and target shooting only.") Licenses are issued for a minimum of four years; the law says “[w]hen required, license renewal shall take place within the month of the fourth anniversary of the license holder's date of birth following the date of issuance.” (I ask for an expiration date on my fourth birthday after the date of issuance, so I won’t forget.) The fee is ten dollars, payable when you pick up your license.
Non-resident licenses, issued by the state police, cost $100 (raised from $20 in July of 2009). Download a non-resident application form at
Note: On July 17, 2013, the New Hampshire "Administrative Rule" (which has the force of law) about non-resident carry licenses was changed to require the non-resident applicant to have a "a license to carry a pistol or revolver concealed in the state where the applicant resides" — whereas earlier, NH non-resident licenses could be issued to applicants who had a concealed carry license issued by ANY state. See
http://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/nhsp/ssb/permitslicensing/documents/Saf-C2100.pdf. This is bad news for people from states like New Jersey, in which licensing is almost impossible. (As before, however, a non-resident applicant from Vermont — which doesn't require or issue concealed carry licenses — can provide a letter from his or her local police department.)
Q: Who can get a concealed carry license?
A: With some rare exceptions, anyone who isn’t prohibited by law from possessing a gun (see the appendices to this article on "prohibited persons" and "age restrictions on handguns") is generally issued a License to Carry. State law (RSA 159:6 and 159:6-c) provides that if you’re denied a license, the issuing authority must give you the reason(s) for denial in writing within 14 days of the application; you have 30 days to ask the local district or municipal court for a hearing; the court must hold a hearing within 14 days after that; and “during this hearing the burden shall be upon the issuing authority to demonstrate by clear and convincing proof why any denial, suspension, or revocation was justified, failing which the court shall enter an order directing the issuing authority to grant or reinstate the petitioner's license." Note that "clear and convincing" is a well-understood standard legal phrase that equates to a pretty high standard; in other words, the law is in your favor here.
Even though the basic licensing law, RSA 159:6, includes the undefined phrase “suitable person,” the “clear and convincing” burden on the police of RSA 159:6-c makes New Hampshire pretty much a “shall-issue” state, as opposed to a "may issue" state, where police have personal discretion on issuing concealed carry licenses — but a judge can still support a denial if you’re known as the town drunk, for example, or have a history of violent or lawless behavior. Keep in mind that an anti-gun police chief combined with an anti-gun judge can push the boundaries of who is (or isn't) a "suitable person."
Q: My local police department says that they will take more than 14 days to process my application for a concealed carry license; they gave me an instruction sheet (besides the standard one-page application form); they require more than three references; they require my references to send letters to the police department; they require documented proof of firearms training; and they want fingerprints and photographs. Which of these actions are legal?
Most police departments follow the law, but since the most common violation is delay beyond 14 days, I recommend that you find some way of proving when you delivered your completed application to the police (such a having a witness attend). Note: in the spring of 2012, Attorney Evan Nappen, the Pro-Gun New Hampshire General Counsel, won a newsworthy court case as a result of a police chief ignoring a License to Carry application well beyond the statutory 14-day deadline; the chief was ordered to issue the license and pay significant attorney fees and court costs. See the article at
Q: If my car is pulled over by the police, do I have to tell the officer that I’m (legally) carrying?
A: NH law doesn’t require that you notify the police officer that you're armed (but before he asks), and the subject is debatable. One opinion (mine) is that if your gun is truly concealed, and there’s nothing that would suggest to the officer that you’re carrying, then there’s no reason to notify him; after all, some younger police officers (including recent Massachusetts transplants) may panic and have you spread-eagled on the ground. But of course you should tell the officer that you're legally armed if he asks you (do NOT lie to the police!), and I further strongly suggest you should do so if there's any chance he’d suspect you’re carrying, or if the gun would be noticed during your conversation with him – especially if he asks you to step out of the car.
If you do notify the officer for any of these reasons (or if you simply choose to do so), a personal suggestion is that you don't say the word "gun," because police are trained to react urgently to that word. Instead, I suggest keeping both hands on the steering wheel and saying something like "Officer, I have a New Hampshire license to carry, and I'm carrying in a belt holster on my right side, under my jacket; how would you like me to proceed?"
As a matter of training, the officer will most likely disarm you for his own safety during the conversation – and in some cases may even unload the handgun before returning it (and the ammunition) to you. A smart officer will also ask if you have any other weapons on you.
By the way, the law doesn’t demand that you have your resident NH License to Carry (the paper actually says “Pistol/Revolver License”) with you, but you should: let's say you’re stopped without your carry license on a Friday night in a remote town, and your hometown police chief – who’s the only officer in your small town – can’t verify your license because he’s on a weekend fishing trip; you could very well be arrested (which would ruin your weekend).
Q: I’ve seen magazine advertisements for badges that say “Concealed Carry Permit,” or something similar, often attached to a leather wallet-size folder to hold the permit/license itself. Are these a good idea for someone with a NH License to Carry (“Pistol/Revolver License”)?
A: No! They’re designed to look like police badges, and that’s exactly what makes them evidence that one is impersonating a police officer – a FELONY in New Hampshire. See New Hampshire RSAs 104:28-a (“False Personation”) and 106-B:15-a (“Exhibiting Insignia of State Police”). Although RSA 104:28-a says “with the intent to be recognized as [a law enforcement officer],” a court is quite likely to agree that the very nature and purpose of the badge is to have people think you’re a police officer – thereby verifying "intent." Don’t do it!
Q: Is my New Hampshire License to Carry valid in other states?
A: Only in those states with which New Hampshire has reciprocity, meaning states that agree to recognize our licenses if we recognize theirs. There are currently (August 2013) 22 such states, listed on line: go to www.nh.gov ; click on “State Agencies” on the right; scroll down to “S” and click on “State Police Division” (within the Safety Department); then click on "Support Services Bureau" on the left; then click on “Permits and Licensing Unit” on the left; then click on “Pistol and Revolver.” (The result will be http://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/nhsp/ssb/permitslicensing/plupr.html.) No, Massachusetts isn’t on the list. The nearest state where your NH license is recognized is Pennsylvania. (For you sissies afraid of the cold, note that Florida is on the list.) And, of course, you don’t need a license to carry concealed in Vermont (because of a ruling by the Vermont state supreme court in 1903). Be aware that if you go to these states, you must follow their gun laws, which may be more restrictive than New Hampshire’s; in Georgia, for example, you may not carry at political rallies. (If you're curious, the website www.handgunlaw.us provides useful summaries of handgun laws in other states — just note their disclaimers.) Also, be sure to have your carry license with you. (NH law requires that of visitors from reciprocal states.)
Q: How can I take my guns on trips to another state?
A: The federal Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986 — 18USC926A — supersedes state and local anti-gun laws for interstate travelers, under certain conditions. It says that if you can "lawfully possess and carry" a gun at both the beginning and end of an interstate trip, you may legally transport it interstate if it is unloaded and in a locked container inaccessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle; ditto for any ammunition. If the car doesn't have a lockable trunk, then the unloaded handgun(s), rifle(s), or shotgun(s), and any ammunition, must be in a locked container (an attaché case would work for a handguns), but specifically not "the glove compartment or console." Note that courts have held that to be protected by this law, the trip must be reasonably direct; that is, you may stop for meals, gas, or even to sleep overnight, but if you were to stop to see a movie, for example, in a state where your possession of the gun would be illegal, you would lose the protection of the federal law. (So don't play golf in New Jersey on your way to Florida.) Also, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey — all anti-gun states — are notorious for arresting gun carriers despite the federal law, forcing those people to use the federal law as an affirmative defense in court.
Q: What if I want to visit Massachusetts?
A: WARNING – WARNING – WARNING! Unless you have a Massachusetts non-resident License to Carry, bringing a firearm into Massachusetts is a FELONY, with minimum mandatory imprisonment of 18 months! And, believe it or not, bringing an EMPTY SHELL CASING — which Massachusetts considers an “ammunition component” — can also get you jailed, in this case for up to two years.
Q: Where is it legal to shoot?
A: Per state law (RSAs 207:3-a, 207:3-c, and 644:13), you may not shoot across or within 15 feet of a road, or “within 300 feet of a permanently occupied dwelling without permission of the owner or the occupant of the dwelling or from the owner of the land on which the person discharging the firearm or shooting the bow and arrow is situated.”
You also may not discharge a firearm within the “compact part of a town or city,” defined as “the territory within a town or city comprised of the following:
“(a) Any nonresidential, commercial building, including, but not limited to, industrial, educational, or medical buildings, plus a perimeter 300 feet wide around all such buildings without permission of the owner.
“(b) Any park, playground, or other outdoor public gathering place designated by the legislative body of the city or town.
“(c) Any contiguous area containing 6 or more buildings which are used as either part-time or permanent dwellings and the spaces between them where each such building is within 300 feet of at least one of the others, plus a perimeter 300 feet wide around all the buildings in such area.”
Further, it’s just common sense and courtesy to ask permission of the landowner to shoot on private property, even if there is no “permanently occupied dwelling” within 300 feet.
For target shooting, many people belong to a gun club, and there are many of them in New Hampshire; the local police can tell you where they are, and you can find a list of shooting clubs compiled by the state Fish and Game department at http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Links/fish_and_game_clubs.htm. Also, there are three commercial indoor shooting ranges in the state (at least that I know of): the Manchester Firing Line (668-9015, website gunsnh.com); Belmont Firearms and Range (524-8678, website belmontfirearms.com); and Tri-State Firearms in Hinsdale (336-8940, website tristatefirearms.com).
I hope this helps your understanding of New Hampshire gun laws. If you have any questions, feel free to ask any member of the Misguided Malcontent March. (Just kidding, of course. Call Pro-Gun New Hampshire, 226-PGNH, and we’ll call you back.)
APPENDIX 1: “Prohibited persons” per federal law and NH state law
Federal law — Title 18 United States Code Section 922, subsection (g) — 18USC922(g) — prohibits possession of firearms or ammunition by: convicted felons (actually, persons who have been convicted of a crime potentially punishable by imprisonment of more than a year, with the exception, per 18USC921(a)(20)(B), of state misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment of two years or less); fugitives from justice; users of illegal drugs; someone “adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution”; illegal aliens; those who have been dishonorably discharged from the military; those who have renounced their US citizenship; those subject to domestic restraining orders; and those convicted of “misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.” For both felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors, it doesn’t matter how long ago the conviction was; the prohibitions are for life, unless the person is pardoned or has his rights restored through expungement (called annulment in New Hampshire)**. Violation of this law is a federal felony with a ten-year prison sentence. A “loophole” is that the federal firearms prohibition does NOT include muzzleloaders (both modern and antique), nor firearms manufactured before 1899 (actually made then, not modern replicas).
In some ways, however, New Hampshire state law is actually more restrictive than federal law: per RSA 159:3, anyone who has been convicted of a felony “against the person or property of another,” or a drug felony, is prohibited from possession of not only firearms, but ANY “deadly weapon as defined in RSA 625:11, V,” which means “any firearm, knife or other substance or thing which, in the manner it is used, intended to be used, or threatened to be used, is known to be capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.” (So, unlike federal law, NH state law prohibits convicted felons from possessing muzzle-loaders.)
** Note: Expungement/annulment must be done in the state, and usually the court, where the conviction occurred. Unfortunately, Massachusetts doesn't have expungement; they will "seal one's records," but that only hides the conviction from employers, landlords, etc. — it does not remove the federal gun-possession prohibition of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor conviction. A suggested possible remedy may be to have a very talented Massachusetts attorney re-open the case, but this is a long shot.
...APPENDIX 1-A: "Domestic violence" misdemeanors
While most states do not use the words "domestic violence" in the formal names of their laws, federal law — 18USC921(a)(33) — defines a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence as a misdemeanor that "has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim."
APPENDIX 2: Age restrictions on handguns
First, let’s clear up a common misconception: Some people (and police, apparently) think that no-one under 21 can legally buy or possess a handgun, but that’s incorrect; the only “under 21” restriction is that people under 21 can’t receive a handgun from a licensed dealer (FFL, Federal Firearms Licensee). In New Hampshire, people aged 18, 19, or 20 can legally buy a handgun from a private party, and are commonly issued concealed carry licenses.
The difficulty arises when someone is under 18. New Hampshire state law (RSA 159:12) doesn’t allow anyone to “sell, barter, hire, lend or give” a handgun to a minor, with exceptions for (a) those supervising minors during a “supervised firearms training program” or a “lawful shooting event or activity” (which arguably includes casual target shooting); (b) licensed hunters accompanying minors on a lawful hunt; and (c) parents, grandparents, or guardians who “give a revolver to their children or wards.” (Note, I can’t imagine a court disallowing a pistol rather than a revolver.)
And then there's federal law. Title 18, United States Code, Section 922, subsection (x) — 18USC922(x) — deals with “juveniles” (defined as those under 18) and handguns. It says that a juvenile may not possess a handgun or handgun ammunition except for use (1) in the course of employment, or for ranching/farming "at the direction of an adult," or for hunting, or for target shooting, or in the course of "instruction in the safe and lawful use of a handgun" ...AND (2) with the “prior written consent” of a parent/guardian in his or her possession. (Further, the parent/guardian must not be a “prohibited person” himself/herself.) There are exceptions for juveniles in the armed services possessing handguns in the course of duty, for transfer of title (but not possession) by inheritance, and for defense against a home invader.
Although the New Hampshire state law on issuing concealed carry licenses (RSA 159:6) does not mention age, in practice those under 18 will be denied, with New Hampshire police seeming to agree on the explanation that they’re not “suitable persons” (per RSA 159:6) because as minors, they’re “not responsible for their actions.” Even if a court were not to accept this, it could well find that the exceptions under federal law do not rise to the level of justifying concealed carry, and therefore a juvenile applicant could be found “unsuitable” per state law for attempted violation of federal law. (Although it’s well known that a decade or so ago, the 16-year-old son of a senior state government official was issued his License to Carry, either the issuing police chief’s lawyers were unaware of the federal law, or that law wasn’t in effect at the time.)
Be aware that there’s a risk to challenging a license denial: if you lose in court, then you’ll have to explain the denial every time you (re-)apply for a concealed carry license, because application forms ask if you’ve ever been denied.
By federal law, gun stores/dealers (FFLs) may not sell/transfer rifles or shotguns (“long guns,” as opposed to handguns) to people under 18. As far as I know, that’s the only restriction in either federal or NH state law on minors buying or possessing long guns.
APPENDIX 3: Trespass
RSA 635:2 says that “A person is guilty of criminal trespass if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place.” The statute continues to say that criminal trespass is a misdemeanor if a person “knowingly enters or remains…in any place in defiance of an order to leave or not enter which was personally communicated to him by the owner or other authorized person.” (Otherwise it’s a “violation,” which is less than a misdemeanor.)
Keep in mind that RSA 159:26 says that only the state and not “political subdivisions” of the state can control guns (so you can carry in your town or city hall, for example), but here we’re talking about private property: if you carry a gun into a store or restaurant, for example, that doesn’t want you to, and an employee asks you to leave, you’re committing misdemeanor trespass if you refuse to do so. (Note that even a low-level employee, like a checkout clerk at a large store, would be considered an “authorized person” for the purposes of the RSA.) Incidentally, if you are ordered to leave, that order legally persists; you’d be breaking the law if you returned to that place the next day, for example.
A building with a sign at its entrance declaring that no guns (or “weapons”) are allowed, however, is another matter: If you are discovered to be carrying within such a place, but are not asked to leave, it is arguably unlikely that you could be prosecuted for violating the trespassing statute, at least not at the misdemeanor level. (And incidentally, there’s another statute, RSA 635:4, that specifies that signage prohibiting specified activities, such as hunting or trespassing, on private property shall be “printed with block letters no less than 2 inches in height, and with the name and address of the owner or lessee of such land” and that such signs “shall be posted not more than 100 yards apart on all sides and shall also be posted at gates, bars and commonly used entrances.”) The law is unclear if an armed person entering a building with a “no weapons” sign “is not licensed or privileged to do so,” but the worst interpretation of the statute is that he would be guilty of a violation rather than a misdemeanor.
APPENDIX 4: Confrontations with police involving guns
If police have a “reasonable suspicion” that that a person has been, or is about to be, involved in a crime, they have the right to do a quick surface search of his outer clothing to look for weapons, in part for their own protection. This is called a “Terry frisk” because of a landmark 1968 Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio.
Attorney Evan Nappen’s business cards summarize his advice on serious police confrontations, including what to do after a self-defense shooting, using the three letters “SAC” (reminiscent of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command): “S” reminds you to remain Silent (until you’ve spoken with your attorney); “A” reminds you to ask for your Attorney (before saying anything else to the police); and “C” tells you to not give your Consent to the police for anything, notably including searches of your vehicle or residence.
As I wrote earlier, self-defense shootings are life-changing events. What should you do afterwards? To begin, here are four common-sense guidelines: (a) Don’t leave the scene! For the police and the courts, “flight equals guilt.” (b) In a similar vein, and for a similar purpose, try to be the first to call the police, or shout for someone else to do so, immediately. This helps establish your innocence. (c) Never lie to the police or falsify evidence (yes, they can tell if you’ve “dragged the body indoors”). (d) For your own safety, don’t have a gun in your hands when the police arrive. By the way, similar advice (especially "(b)," above) also applies if you just display a weapon to warn off a deadly threat; you don't want to be accused of criminal threatening, a felony (see RSA 631:4).
Attorney Nappen's "SAC" advice, above, is straightforward and easily remembered. Going beyond that, however, Massad Ayoob, the well-known police trainer, courtroom expert witness, and firearms author (also sworn police officer, champion shooting competitor, and an old friend), teaches students at his Lethal Force Institute classes to do the following five things when the police arrive after a self-defense shooting: First, tell the police that “This man attacked me.” (That makes it clear from the beginning that you’re the victim and the other person is the perpetrator.) Second, say “I will sign the complaint.” (Ayoob says that this tells the police that you’re speaking their language, and reinforces that you’re the Good Guy and the other person is the Bad Guy.) Third, point out the evidence. (If you don’t, the attacker’s knife, spent shell casings, or whatever, can disappear or be moved.) Fourth, point out the witnesses. (Unfortunately, some people “just don’t want to get involved,” even when their testimony can prove your innocence.) Fifth, and most importantly, tell the police that they will have your full cooperation after you’ve spoken with your attorney – and stick to that. (Mas writes, “Experts tell us that it will be a minimum of 24 to perhaps 72 hours before you’ll be in any condition to deal with a full interrogation. And that interrogation – the more politically correct term “interview” is used now – should not take place until you’ve discussed it with your attorney in depth. Nor should it take place, in my opinion, without the attorney right there with you, and a legal stenographic service’s camcorder rolling to record it for your side, just in case.”)
Note: The original version of this article was posted on freestateblogs.net in January 2006; a few months later, when PGNH was organized, the article was posted here on PGNH.org, and has been updated several times since then.