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Gun Shop Owner Targeted by Barrington Town Officials Has Signatures to Force Vote

The business owner behind a popular Barrington gun shop has the signatures necessary to go after the town officials who he claims targeted his livelihood. 

“They have to call the meeting now,” said Rob Russell.

He isn’t stopping with a special Town Meeting to fire the town administrator and town treasurer. Russell now wants a seat on the town’s select board. He plans to run for one of the seats up at the March Town Meeting. 

“I don’t even want to run for selectman, I don’t have the time. But I feel a sense of duty,” Russell said. “These selectmen just don’t care about the people.”

Russell, a retired military veteran who runs 2A Tactical out of his Tolend Road home, recently submitted petitions with the signatures of 178 registered voters, enough to trigger the special Town Meeting he wants to be called to have Town Administrator Conner MacIver and Town Treasurer Peter Royce fired.

Royce was caught using his town office to orchestrate a campaign against Russell’s business, according to documents compiled by Russell.

Russell’s 2A Tactical gunsmithing shop has been the center of controversy for years in Barrington. He originally opened it as a home business, but as the business took off so did the traffic in his residential neighborhood.

Russell soon found himself embroiled in a lawsuit as the town alleged zoning ordinance violations. However, after Russell prevailed during two zoning board of adjustment hearings, the town dropped the lawsuit this spring.

Select Board Chair Dan Mannschreck, said this week that once all the signatures are verified the board will put scheduling the meeting on its next agenda. 

“We hope to do it as soon as possible,” Mannschreck said.

Russell is presenting a single warrant article for the meeting, one that essentially asks voters to either fire or keep MacIver and Royce. However, since Barrington is an SB 2 town, voters will first be given the opportunity to have a deliberative session to discuss the warrant article, and offer any changes, before the official ballot vote Mannschreck said.

Russell is worried the deliberative session will be stacked with those opposed to firing Royce and MacIver and that his warrant article will get watered down or changed. 

Russell is a military veteran and a former police officer. His shop is staffed by other veterans and the business has built up a community of loyal customers. They come to his store on the residential Tolend Road for classes as well as events.

What is unusual about Russell’s case, according to documents shared with NH Journal, is that Royce, the part-time town treasurer, used his position and knowledge of town operations to actively lobby against Russell’s business. At one point, Royce used his town email to communicate with MacIver about the case. After prodding, MacIver told Royce that people were encouraged to file complaints against Russell if they have concerns.

Royce allegedly organized people throughout the neighborhood to file complaints against Russell’s business, landing Russell before the ZBA, the select board, and the courts.

According to a letter from the town’s law firm to MacIver, Royce’s use of his official town email crossed the line.

“Mr. Royce is the town’s appointed treasurer. Of course, he does not lose his rights as a citizen by assuming such a position. He may contact code enforcement with concerns just as any other citizen may, and code enforcement treats his complaints no differently than those from other citizens. I agree that Mr. Royce should not be using his town email for any communications in his personal capacity, and he has been so counseled,” wrote attorney Laura Spector-Morgan to town officials.

MacIver did not respond to a request for comment. Previously he said Royce was talked to about his email use, but it was not clear if there were any other consequences. Except, perhaps, Russell’s special Town Meeting.

State Rep Who Voted to Keep Teen Driving School Mandate Owns a Driving School

State Rep. Karel Crawford (R-Moultonborough) is adamantly opposed to a bill that would allow New Hampshire teens to get their driver’s license without spending hundreds of dollars attending driving school. And, she insists, her “no” vote in committee this week had nothing whatsoever to do with her occupation:

She owns a driving school.

“This isn’t about me, or my Red Hill Driving School, this is about an industry,” Crawford told NHJournal.

However, the main sponsor of HB 1208, Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said he is considering filing an ethics complaint against Crawford.

“There is an ethics challenge that can be filed here, and there have been conversations about that,” Lang said.

Crawford, along with the majority on the New Hampshire House Transportation Committee, voted against Lang’s bill that would allow people under age 18 to get a driver’s license without going to a certified driving school. Instead, the bill “authorizes a waiver of the driver education requirement if a father, mother, guardian, or other responsible adult provides equivalent classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel training.”

Crawford did not make a public disclosure at this week’s committee hearing that she has a financial interest in keeping the professional driver’s education mandate. However, she said she makes that disclosure on all her official paperwork.

“I’ve been a state rep for 10 years. I disclose that every time I’m elected on all my paperwork that I am licensed to instruct driver education by the State of New Hampshire.”

Crawford said she checked with the House Speaker to make sure she could weigh in on Lang’s bill when he first proposed it two years ago. 

Lang maintains parents can do the job to get their children driving without the need for expensive classes that are often difficult to schedule.

“The average cost of a driver education program in New Hampshire is over $700 per student. That puts it out of reach for a lot of teens,” Lang said. 

The other problem is the months-long waiting lists most of the state’s driver’s ed programs have. Lang said when his son turned 16, he had to wait several months before he could get into a class.

For Crawford, the issue is safety. She said parents don’t do as good a job teaching their children as she or any other licensed teacher does.

“I teach 16- and 17-year-olds how to drive. Their parents do a job they think is good, but I spend the first three lessons undoing what they have been taught,” Crawford said.

Crawford said studies show teens who learn to drive outside of a driving school are far more likely to get into accidents, including fatalities, than students who went through the paid program. According to a 2015 study by the University of Nebraska, driving school-taught teens are safer on the roads.

The study of 150,000 teen drivers found drivers who have not gone through driver’s education are 75 percent more likely to get a traffic ticket, 24 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal or injury accident, and 16 percent more likely to have an accident.

However, according to a 2021 review published by the National Institute of Health looking at more than 200 education/safety studies, like the University of Nebraska’s, there is no real evidence that driver education makes teens safer. Traffic crashes and fatalities continue to rise, even as more states impose driver’s ed on teens.

“There was no evidence that driver education is an effective approach to reducing crashes or injuries. This negative result might be due to ineffective teaching methods. To improve road safety, it appears necessary to change the method or content of driving education since the current approaches to driving education do not reduce traffic crashes or injuries,” the NIH report states.

Lang said parents can safely teach their children and there will be oversight from the state as always. The state will still require new drivers to pass both the DMV written test and road test, he said.

Lang plans to bring the bill back up to the full House for a vote.