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) 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, email@example.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)