The ruling stemmed from a case involving Oriol Dor, 31, of Manchester, who was charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
According to court documents, on May 8, 2012, police searched Dor's vehicle and discovered an unloaded .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol adjacent to a loaded magazine inside the vehicle's glove compartment.
Current New Hampshire law [under RSA 159:4 (2002)] prohibits the unlicensed carrying of a loaded pistol or revolver in a vehicle or concealed upon the person, and defines a loaded pistol or revolver to be any handgun "with a magazine, cylinder, chamber or clip in which there are loaded cartridges."
Prosecutors argued the law should be construed broadly to include a pistol or revolver that does not contain any cartridges but that is located near a detachable magazine or clip that contains cartridges. Dor's lawyer contended no law was broken and moved to dismiss the case.
The District Court judge hearing the case opted not to rule on the motion and referred the question about the definition of "loaded" to the state's high court.
In its decision released this week, the court said the definition of "loaded" sought by prosecutors in the case would create ambiguity and was not the intent of the legislature when it drafted and passed the law.
"[A]s the State seems to concede, in order to clarify the substantial uncertainty resulting from its reading of RSA 159:4, we would effectively have to add language similar to that contained in one or more … out-of-state statutes …. This would go beyond judicial narrowing– rewriting statutes is a task reserved for the legislature."
Significantly, the court also noted that a clear rule was especially important given that "in this country, ownership and use of standard pistols and revolvers is not only widespread and generally accepted as lawful … but also implicates constitutional rights …." The recognition that the case implicates constitutional rights adds to a growing body of case law that indicates the individual right to bear arms is not limited strictly to the home.