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Guns may be banned at State House – again

On the first day of the legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, the "No Firearms" section of a sign is clipped from a State Street entrance to the New Hampshire State House.
(KATIE BARNES / Monitor Staff)

On the first day of the legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, the "No Firearms" section of a sign is clipped from a State Street entrance to the New Hampshire State House. (KATIE BARNES / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

House lawmakers are expected to consider reinstating a gun ban inside the State House today when they meet to write rules for the upcoming session.

At least two newly elected House members have asked the House Rules Committee to bring back the ban. And the head of the rules committee, Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff of Penacook, said yesterday he expects it will be taken up today. If it does, Shurtleff will support it, he said.

“The New Hampshire State House is the seat of the Executive Branch,” he said. “But it’s also a classroom. We have thousands of fourth-graders coming through all year, and it’s absolutely ludicrous to have children sitting in the visitor’s gallery with people who are armed.”

Guns had been prohibited in the State House until January 2011 when the new Republican-led House voted to allow concealed weapons in the House chamber, gallery and anterooms. It was their first official legislative action, and it passed on a voice vote.

The change made headlines then and again this year when Rep. Kyle Tasker, a Nottingham Republican, dropped his handgun during a committee hearing. No one was hurt, and Tasker said afterward that he had neglected to secure his holster after giving blood and feeling light-headed.

If the rules committee, which includes members of both parties, agrees to reinstate the gun ban, the ban would go to the full House for a vote when lawmakers convene Jan. 2, Shurtleff said. As word of the rule change spread yesterday, lawmakers from both parties responded.

Rep. Rebecca Emerson-Brown, a Portsmouth Democrat, said she emailed all House members yesterday to “respectfully request” that the rules committee reinstate the gun ban. Since committee assignments have not been announced, Emerson-Brown figured emailing all House members was the best way to get her request to whomever was assigned to the rules committee.

“I am in no way interested in restricting the Second Amendment rights of anyone,” she said last night. “That is the furthest thing from my mind. I would simply like the people’s House to be a safe environment.”

Emerson-Brown and her friends followed the news last year when the Legislature voted to allow concealed weapons inside the State House. Their feelings about guns in the building haven’t changed.

“Among my friends, who are now my constituents, there was a discussion of school kids taking trips to the State House,” she said. “And there was concern for the potential of something to happen.”

Tasker, reached yesterday, has different concerns. He said he will vote against the ban and doesn’t believe it will pass.

“Most people realize stopping law-abiding citizens from carrying (guns) and protecting themselves does nothing to make anyone safe,” he said in an email. “Unless you install metal detectors at the doors and allow searching of reps, a rule change will be a moot point as it would not stop anyone from carrying.”

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, said he broke with his party a few years ago when guns were banned after the Democrats assumed control of the House. He’ll vote for a ban, he said, if one reaches the full House. “But I don’t imagine many Republicans will agree with me,” he said.

Rep. Rick Watrous, a Concord Democrat, told fellow lawmakers in an email yesterday that he’ll also support banning guns at the State House.

“We already ban firearms in our courts,” Watrous wrote. “We should do the same for our State House. And to those Reps who want to bring in their guns to protect the rest of us. . . . Thanks, but no thanks. I neither need nor desire such ‘protection.’ I would rather conduct the state’s business without the presence of firearms.”

Rep. Chris Andrews, a Bow Democrat elected in November to his first term, said he’s not sure how he’d vote.

He said he empathizes with lawmakers and others who say they are afraid of being around others carrying concealed weapons. But he also recognizes people have a constitutional right to have a gun.

Andrews wonders, though, how a firearm ban would be enforced. The State House has no metal detectors and only a few security officers. “I am concerned we will institute a rule we can’t enforce,” he said. What Andrews does know is that he doesn’t want the ban to become a divisive issue that splits House members or the two parties.

“I honestly don’t know how I would vote,” he said.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

Legacy Comments7

I think it's time to think about a capitol police force. They would be trained in this type of law enforcement. Let the gun loving legislators leave the weapons with them at the metal detectors on the way in. This force should be at all government buildings, state, city, county, etc., schools, malls, hospitals, wherever the public could be assaulted by the next Adam Lanza wannabe. If we want the freedom of bearing arms we need to address the problems that go along with it.

This really shouldn't be an issue. I cannot imagine being in the Statehouse with all the frustration that political disagreements can generate and armed people at the same time. My aim in carrying a weapon is for personal protection, I don't want to have to worry about another persons aim. I have no problem with not carrying my weapon when entering public venues of this type. The last point that I have here is that these kinds of rules generally only effect those of that follow rules in the first place. That said, enforcement of these rules is needed in order for them to be effective. There should be metal detectors and sheriffs that monitor these types of facilities as they do with the courts.

What does all of these mass murders all have in common: Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech. They are all in gun free zones where mentally ill people took advantage that innocents didn't have guns to defend themselves. I guess that is what the liberals want at the state house.

So your solution is to arm innocent kindergartners to the teeth?

"over the opposition of the majority of members"?? they voted on it and it passed. Majority means more than 50% and Norelli got it. So when the sun rises in the east next time, remember majority means not you.

The House and Senate galleries would be respective death traps should well intentioned gun carrying members decide they need to use their weapons. There should be metal detectors and NO ONE should have a gun at the State House except for the State Police charged with that responsibility. You are just as dead if you are shot by "friendly" fire as you are if you are shot by a deranged person with some sort of point to make. We have trained State Police for that job. Pretending that untrained people are up to that job is pure folly. The current requirements for people to get concealed weapon permit does not warranted any of that type of competency or training.

Considering that the initial statehouse gun ban was instituted by then-Speaker Terie Norelli -- over the opposition of a majority of the members -- a new handgun ban will be as surprising as this morning's sun rising in the east.

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