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Spencer Rendahl: Guns In Schools

It seemed like an uncontroversial move when the Lebanon, New Hampshire, school board voted last fall to ban faculty, students, and members of the public from bringing firearms onto school property, into school vehicles, and to school events on any property in the city. The Rivendell Interstate School Board, which includes Orford, New Hampshire, debated a similar ban this week. Several other schools districts in New Hampshire also have bans, including mine in Plainfield. Ours was passed in the mid nineties after resident Ed Brown began showing up at school board meetings with his shotgun. Brown is now serving time in federal prison for weapons and tax evasion convictions.

Most of my neighbors think the ban makes sense. After all, it’s hard to imagine why a parent volunteering in a classroom of second graders would need to carry a handgun. These local bans are consistent with the 1996 federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, which prohibits firearms within a thousand feet of school property and states that students may not bring firearms onto school property at all. Both Vermont and Maine have state laws barring adults from bringing guns onto school property. But New Hampshire state law doesn’t allow such bans.

What’s more, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, municipal police don’t have the authority to enforce the federal law, and towns don’t have the legal authority to impose municipal regulations. And last year, the New Hampshire legislature passed a new conceal carry law upholding previous legislation that allows adults to carry firearms onto school property.

There’s currently no real enforcement of this state law, but a bill now in the New Hampshire legislature supported by gun rights advocates would, if passed, change that by punishing school officials with fines for adopting school gun restrictions. Most recently, the bill was sent to a study committee, where its fate is uncertain.

I often lean libertarian, which is partly why I live in libertarian-leaning New Hampshire. And I tend to agree with Thomas Jefferson, our founding libertarian, who wrote that one should be allowed to believe what one wants if “it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

He was referring to religion, but it could just as easily apply to other matters. After all, if something doesn’t hurt other people, why not allow it? But I keep coming back to the fundamental belief that guns simply don’t belong in school.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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