New Hampshire has long been known as one of the more gun friendly states in the US. There is no restriction on open carry of pistols or long guns. A concealed carry permit, here known as a “Pistol/Revolver License” is only $10, and the issuing authority must issue it within two weeks or be subject to legal action, as this is a “shall issue” state. New Hampshire also reciprocates carry permits from any state in the union that reciprocates theirs. The state government preempts municipalities from passing any laws more restrictive than those of the state government, but local governments may regulate the firing of weapons in certain areas.
Unless you live in a place like Vermont or Alaska, this probably sounds like a gun owners Utopia to you. But a case that recently went before district court Judge Edward J. Burke has called this “shall issue” part into question.
The statute regarding license to carry is RSA 159:6 and it reads as follows; (emphasis added by me)
159:6 License to Carry. –
I. (a) The selectmen of a town, the mayor or chief of police of a city or a full-time police officer designated by them respectively, the county sheriff for a resident of an unincorporated place, or the county sheriff if designated by the selectmen of a town that has no police chief, upon application of any resident of such town, city, or unincorporated place, or the director of state police, or some person designated by such director, upon application of a nonresident, shall issue a license to such applicant authorizing the applicant to carry a loaded pistol or revolver in this state for not less than 4 years from the date of issue, if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear injury to the applicant’s person or property or has any proper purpose, and that the applicant is a suitable person to be licensed. 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.
(b) The license shall be in duplicate and shall bear the name, address, description, and signature of the licensee. The original shall be delivered to the licensee and the duplicate shall be preserved by the people issuing the same for 4 years. When 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. The license shall be issued within 14 days after application, and, if such application is denied, the reason for such denial shall be stated in writing, the original of which such writing shall be delivered to the applicant, and a copy kept in the office of the person to whom the application was made. The fee for licenses issued to residents of the state shall be $10, which fee shall be for the use of the law enforcement department of the town or city granting said licenses; the fee for licenses granted to out-of-state residents shall be $100, which fee shall be for the use of the state. The director of state police is hereby authorized and directed to prepare forms for the licenses required under this chapter and forms for the application for such licenses and to supply the same to officials of the cities and towns authorized to issue the licenses. No other forms shall be used by officials of cities and towns. The cost of the forms shall be paid out of the fees received from nonresident licenses.
II. No photograph or fingerprint shall be required or used as a basis to grant, deny, or renew a license to carry for a resident or nonresident, unless requested by the applicant.
The “suitable person” clause here is not defined. One might assume it means a person who is not prohibited from owning a firearm, a convicted felon, a spousal abuser, a drug addict, a thief, or some violent criminal. In any of those cases, I’m not saying I’d agree with it, but it would make sense at least.
This past July, the police department in Keene New Hampshire did deny a license to carry to one such “unsuitable” individual. In his letter explaining why the individual was denied, Keene Police Chief Ken Meola explained that this individual had numerous “contacts with police for assaultive or threatening behavior”. When you put it that way, this guy does sound awful dangerous, doesn’t he?
So who is this “assaultive” and “threatening” figure that has the KPD so scared?
Meet Derrick Horton, aka Derrick J. Freeman. A 25 year old openly gay man who stands 5’11, weighs in at 155lbs, and produces a podcast titled “Peace News Now”. Threatening indeed…
Prior to moving to Keene, Derrick worked as a fundraiser in Philadelphia for Greenpeace and the ACLU. Both decidedly left leaning groups, not at all in the habit of spouting violent rhetoric. Even this however, was not peaceful enough for Derrick.
He moved to Keene because he saw activists who were not only against violence committed by mere mortals, but by agents of the State as well. This of course presents a problem for those who are reliant upon that violence for their sustenance.
After moving to Keene, Derrick went on what has been dubbed a “Victimless Crime Spree” engaging in numerous acts of peaceful civil disobedience. It became the subject of a documentary film titled “Derrick J’s Victimless Crime Spree” which has seen over 160k views on YouTube and sold numerous DVD’s. This is the source of the aforementioned law enforcement contacts, but if you watch the video you’ll see that Derrick was in no way assaultive or threatening.
The letter cites an arrest on September 9th 2011 for Obstructing Government Administration and Resisting Arrest. In this particular incident Derrick was arrested for filming inside of a court house, charges which were later dropped. You can see the video below, and tell me how “assaultive” and “threatening” you think Derrick was being in this instance.
Another arrest cited was just 5 days later on September 14th was for Possession of a Controlled/Narcotic Substance and Common Law Criminal Contempt. Derrick held, but did not smoke a marijuana pipe in front of law enforcement officers while singing “Give Peace a Chance”. It took place at a “420” rally which had taken place in Keene’s Central Square every day for some time prior to Derrick’s arrest. Video below.
The letter then cites another arrest roughly 3 months later, on February 27th for Resisting Arrest, Common Law Criminal Contempt, and Criminal Trespass. In this instance, Derrick’s crime was standing outside of a court house. When police attempted to arrest him for this ridiculous charge, he ran away. Video below.
The letter also cites a charge less than one month after that, with charges of Resisting Arrest, Disobeying an Officer, and Common Law Criminal Contempt. In this instance Derrick stood accused of not stopping his bicycle for an officer, before the police officer rammed Derrick with his vehicle, and punched Derrick in the face. Again, video below.
Now, I can imagine some folks looking at these videos, saying “He violated the law!” and dismissing the rest of the issues at hand here. I would encourage those folks however to realize that while the KPD is claiming Derrick was “threatening or assaultive” that is just plain false as shown by the video evidence presented.
Derrick is about as menacing as chamomile tea. He was literally singing “give peace a chance” and running away. He has never set out to assault or threaten anyone, least of all the Keene Police Department. And in any case, Derrick pleaded Nolo Contendre (No Contest) to those charges, went to jail for them, and “paid his debt to society” if you will…
On the other hand, Derrick has been repeatedly assaulted and harassed, and not just by the KPD.
In the video below, Derrick was filming another activist putting coins in parking meters, when an onlooker got in his face and stole his camera.
In another instance a goon who had been involved in a previous assault that left one man hospitalized, swatted at Derrick’s camera again. (You will hear the man say it is illegal to record him, it’s not, but the guy doesn’t exactly look like a legal scholar, does he?)
Finally Derrick was assaulted by a gang of men right outside of the court house, again insisting it was illegal for him to record, while it was not. (Gang Assault, on the other hand, is illegal)
Clearly having reason to fear for his safety, not being a physically intimidating figure or having any fight training, Derrick applied for a license to carry in Keene. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, it was denied. Derrick appealed the denial to the district court, before Judge Edward J. Burke. You can see the full video of the hearing below.
What is noteworthy about these convictions is that they involve resistance to law enforcement authorities in the proper exercise of their authority. That is, the petitioner has demonstrated, time and again, that he has little or no respect for law enforcement officials.
This lack of respect does not, per se, render the defendant unsuitable: no one can mandate that respect. The petitioner’s record does show, however, that he manifests that lack of respect by repeatedly placing himself in situations where the authority of the police is challenged. While a challenge to police authority is not always inappropriate, the petitioner’s chosen method of doing so is to do so in ways, evidenced by the record of convictions, that led almost ineluctably to physical confrontations with the police. The petitioner’s testimony made it clear that he is committed to acting in similar fashion in the future. Under these circumstances, the court finds that the petitioner is unsuitable to possess a concealed weapon.
To be sure, the petitioner testified that his motivation in resisting arrest and committing these other offenses is based on political considerations (ostensibly making a First Amendment claim). Acts of civil disobedience may be expressions of great moral. political or religious courage, from which society may ultimately benefit. But if the law being violated is constitutional, one’s motives do not excuse a violation. And the petitioner, despite his motivations, must live with the consequences.
Interesting to hear Judge Burke talk about the constitutionality of laws, even as he denies a man his right to bear arms.
The Bigger Picture
Whatever your thoughts on Derrick or his activism, he’s not a threat, he’s never been violent, and he’s not a convicted felon. In fact, it’s perfectly legal for Derrick to openly carry a loaded gun, so long as he displays it openly. This might seem like a good deal if you live in a place like California, but in a place like New Hampshire, a winter coat could turn your open carry into a concealed carry rather easily. Even accidentally, making a criminal out of the otherwise law abiding gun owner.
Yet he is being denied a license to carry in a “shall issue” state. This is a big deal for people who care about gun rights. If a “shall issue” state can turn around and deny a person a license to carry, just because he doesn’t “respect law enforcement” I’d say that’s a pretty serious problem for gun owners everywhere.
I would also say that given Derrick’s unimposing figure, persistent pursuit of peaceful means to all ends, and excellent verbal skills, make him an excellent test case in court. To my knowledge, a case like this has never been tested, and Derrick’s attorney Evan Nappen literally wrote the book on gun laws, not once, but four times, and in two states.
Thing is, Derrick’s already sacrificed quite a bit for the sake of activism. It’s been quite an expensive ride for him, costing him not only money, but time in jail as well. The initial appeal to the district court costed him $2500, and he only managed to raise half of that expense back. If he is going to appeal this case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, he’s going to require about $3,000 to do so.
Please check out the fundraiser on Derrick’s website, and consider contributing to help what could be a landmark case for gun rights in New Hampshire.
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