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My Turn: Guns in the State House? What are lawmakers so worried about?

  • Nearly 300 people gathered for the "Line in the Granite" rally for the Second Amendment in front of the State House on January 31, 2013. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff

    Nearly 300 people gathered for the "Line in the Granite" rally for the Second Amendment in front of the State House on January 31, 2013.

    ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff

  • Nearly 300 people gathered for the "Line in the Granite" rally for the Second Amendment in front of the State House on January 31, 2013. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff

When I lived in Alaska in 2011, I read about the legislative decision to allow guns in the New Hampshire State House. The supporters of that idea described the Legislature as a target-rich environment. They have said disarming legislators turns the Legislature into a kill zone. One former legislator wrote to the Monitor recently that without guns, legislators were sitting ducks.

The fantasy seems to be that someone in the House gallery will open up on the House floor, shooting down and picking off targeted representatives. If legislators were carrying weapons, they would theoretically be able to shoot back and dispatch any attacker. Or maybe the thinking is that just the fact of carrying a weapon would act as a deterrent for any would-be shooter in the gallery.

As someone who worked in and around the Legislature from the late 1990s to 2010, I have to wonder about the paranoia behind such views. I never felt the area around the State House was unsafe or any kind of danger zone. In Concord, we are not talking violent inner city neighborhood or even scary dark alley. Concord is downright safe.

To the best of my knowledge, in the 200-plus years of the New Hampshire Legislature, there has never been a shooting, stabbing or any act of life-threatening violence directed against any legislator in or nearby the State House or the Legislative Office Building. Civility has been the general rule.

So why the fear of being shot while doing the people’s business as a legislator?

I suspect it is at least partly due to events like Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. Such events shake faith in the normalcy of institutional life. You never know what might happen, even if a legislator has a greater statistical chance of being struck by lightning than being shot on the job. There is always the infinitesimal chance something could happen.

The subject of guns provokes so much passion and so many inflammatory reactions that, unfortunately, historical perspective is lost. The history of guns in America is surprising. However one interprets the Second Amendment to the federal Constitution, history shows that regulation of guns has always gone along with gun rights. Guns have been regulated since the start of our country and the founding fathers balanced gun owners’ rights with public safety needs.

In his writings, including his book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler has stated, “The found

ing fathers instituted gun control laws so intrusive that no self-respecting member of the NRA board of directors would support them.” Winkler showed that laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813; in Indiana in 1820; in Tennessee and Virginia in 1838; in Alabama in 1839 and in Ohio in 1859.

Winkler describes the old Wild West as not so wild when it came to guns. He says that frontier towns usually barred anyone but law enforcement from carrying guns in public. Typically, in frontier towns, gun owners had to check guns at stables on the outskirts of town or drop them off with the sheriff. In exchange, the gun owner received a metal token so they could retrieve their guns when leaving.

It turns out that the famous shoot out at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone Arizona was about gun control. There was an ordinance in Tombstone prohibiting the carrying of deadly weapons. When Wyatt Earp confronted Tom McLaury, it was because McLaury had violated the town’s law about checking his gun. McLaury had failed to leave his gun at the sheriff’s office.

Winkler also shows how the National Rifle Association, up until the 1970s used to be quite a moderate organization. Founded as a hunting and sporting association in 1871, the NRA supported many gun control measures, including the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1968 Gun Control Act. It was not until the 1970s that the NRA ever started advancing the argument that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to carry a gun rather than the people’s right to form armed militias to provide for common defense.

I do think the hysterical overreaction to President Obama’s gun control proposals reflects a lack of historical awareness. Whatever one thinks about his executive actions and his proposed legislation, the response that his proposals are tyrannical or that he is acting like a monarch are pure hyperbole. Obama is clearly within his constitutional authority to issue executive orders. As Winkler notes, presidents dating back to George Washington have issued executive orders. Opposition to mandatory background checks, an assault weapons ban, and a high-capacity magazine ban is political. One can argue about how effective the proposals will be but the proposals are almost certainly constitutional.

No constitutional amendment, including the Second, is beyond regulation. That has been well-established. Consider laws that keep guns away from convicted felons and the mentally ill. Obama’s proposals are no different.

All the talk about tyranny and impeachment is sour grapes from people who were unhappy with election results. There is an irrationality seeing modest gun control proposals as some executive branch power grab.

As for the New Hampshire Legislature, guns have no place in the State House, any more than they do in a courtroom. Would anybody seriously think about arming litigants engaged in a courtroom battle? Why is the Legislature any different? People with passionately held views debate and argue. Adding guns to a potentially volatile mix hardly seems wise. Guns add an element of intimidation and bullying.

As a judge, I am thankful for metal detectors and security guards. The New Hampshire Legislature has no metal detector screening, although most state capitols do. Maybe that is something to consider in New Hampshire, although it is a departure. It could help address the apparent insecurity some legislators feel.

I have a hard time with legislators who make a big deal out of possessing guns in the State House, like that is some accomplishment. That is more like grandstanding and macho posturing. It is not doing something for constituents. Legislators should focus on the needs of the people – not guns on their person.

(Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is a federal administrative law judge. This column reflects only his views, not those of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)

Legacy Comments24

No doubt poverty, populations on entitlements compared to workers that are not, and states with the most union members might also have an impact. The fiscally responsible states do seem to do better in a lot of areas like lower unemployment rates, more HS graduates etc. NH is one of the better states. Another question we shouls ask ourselves is who runs those states that have high crime, large entitlement populations and high unemployment. Traditionally they are run by Dems. Coincidence?

Correct again RabbitNH, but it is politically incorrect to blame those states with minority on minority crime. Often the truth is inconvenient and progressives don't particularly like to face the truth, it interferes with their ideological march to the Left.

There's that pesky post-hoc fallacy again. Yes, it is a coincidence until you can show causation.

I apologize for the double post. It wasn't important enough to repeat, after all.

Or to post in the first place, by the way!

No need to apologize. You can never repeat things too often for some people.

Your inference is that unless every single thing is equal that we can never address what we see and know to be a fact, i.e. should crime in the inner city be excused because of socio-economic reasons? And should recreational gun owners be penalized because of those socio-economic reasons? I guess all of the crime in the inner city is a coincidence, huh?

No, that is entirely your inference, not my implication. I am simply saying that if you want to say that A causes B, then please show us how rather than making a bare assertion and expecting everyone else to fall into line with your "reasoning." That is disrespectful to your readers. In this example, you seem to be saying that crime and high unemployment are caused by Democratic policies, but your statement is nothing but empty rhetoric, devoid of foundation, and you should be ready to have it identified as such.

BINGO Judge Baird! METAL DETECTORS! I advocated for these in one of my last columns. Banning guns and installing metal detectors manned by armed guards would keep all the pols safe and sound. Of course, it would also cost some MONEY! Not surprising the stingy NH legislature wants no part of it.

Maybe politicians should have a little fear of an armed citizenry. Most of them, including Obama are already acting as if they are above the law. Many, if they were in the private sector would be serving time in a Federal prison after some of the graft and corruption on both sides of the aisle in Washington. I also suspect unknown corruption in Concord as well. By the way, MONEY is not the answer to everything. That has been proven time and time again as we invest in our failed education system. Educators make more money and still deliver the same mediocre results.

You would not have written that post two years ago.

For every Adam Lanza statistic there are 10X as many shootings on Chicago's South Side, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and those urban areas, populated by gang bangers, inner city thugs represent the plurality of gun crimes. Progressives were squarely behind the ACLU backed "patients rights" for the mentally ill in the late 1970's and community mental health clinics don't have the clout or effectiveness that state hospitals once had. The epidemic is in the inner city and the movement for patient rights for the mentally ill came from the Left. We spend millions on inner city crime control and waste millions on community mental health, why would we trust those on the Left to propose regulation when their own policies don't work.

Seems to me alot of these gun killings happen in a non "gun free" zone like city streets. Maybe there would have been more killings if it weren't for "gun free" zones. The local man whose brother held a gun to his head until he gave him his AK47(!) I am sure was a responsible gun owner as was Adam Lanza's mother even though her son got his hands on them to kill children. When will "responsible gun owners" realize there is an epidemic of gun violence and something has to change. The NRA is a front for gun manufacturers and has no interest in doing the right thing.

Somebody talking sense about guns -- it's downright revolutionary!

As opposed to this site. Turn your semi-auto into a machine gun legally, using the "bump-fire" technique and purchasing this nifty device to improve its accuracy. Yeehaw!

There are armed NH State Police inside the State House. What does a single representative need to worry about with a trained force of police monitoring the gallery and the building? These politicians are just blowing smoke and should be more afraid of what those people in the gallery are doing at the next election. @Van, gun-free zones are not free-fire zones. What your saying is just NRA talking points. More guns is not the answer. And if you look up your statistics better instead of tuning in to the LaPierre network then you might see that people are dying "everywhere". We have had 1200 people die since the school shooting. And studies show that guns in homes are more likely to cause a homicide of the homeowners than stopping a would be attacker. Stick to the facts and stop spreading rhetoric from the Gun Lobby.

What does Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo mass murders all have in common. They were all committed in gun free zones. A simple observation that Poor Judge Baird fails to comprehend. Why do states and the District of Columbia with gun restriction have significantly higher gun crimes. Answer to both questions is because the criminal has the gun and the law abiding citizen does not.

Van's argument, frequently used by opponents of tighter restrictions on guns, is an example of the "post-hoc fallacy"--"after this, therefore because of this. In fact, churches, schools, colleges have long been "gun-free zones" (a whacked-out term devised by the gun lobby). The level of gun violence in this country is directly due to the ease with which people can get access to a gun. This in turn is thanks largely to the NRA's having become a lobbyist for the gun industry, who reap big profits arming Americans to protect themselves from each other. It's all premised on an expansive and even absolutist reading of the 2nd Amendment. The 1st Amendment is understood to have reasonable limits on "free speech" (even in the wake of "Citizens United"). The 2nd should too. Those limits should include weapons like the Bushmaster 22 and large-capacity magazines.

Don't give up your union day job to become a Constitutional scholar. Yes, we should not allow people who have served time or who have been treated for mental illness to have guns. But the level of gun violence is at a level due to inner city black on black gun violence. Newtown and the other few incidents are aberrations compared to the whole gun violence picture. Criminals will always find a way to get a gun. The gun industry impacts billions of economic dollars. Progressives want to shut down the coal industry, the oil industry, big Agra, they taxed the yacht industry out of existence and now they could care less about the gun industry. Where do you think people will work if you folks keep on demonizing all of the industries that you loathe. Last week fishermen in New England were handed a devastating blow by having their quota of COD cut by 70%, the claim is that it is over fished, the facts show otherwise. Not only will the people who fish be devastated, so will the dock workers, fish processors, restaurants, retail seafood stores, the guy who sells boat fuel, the guy who trucks the fish. Now, you want to devastate the gun industry.....what is wrong with you folks? Oh, I get it, we will just create some do nothing, government employee union job which provides minimal accomplishment to a wasted task. Make work jobs, that's the ticket, huh?

Just curious Bruce, if your argument is true and it isn't how do you explain that states with strict gun laws have statistically more gun violence than states with less restricted gun laws?

And Van goes for the post-hoc double-header! Your argument, Van, proves nothing. There could be any number of reasons for the two facts that you cite. Let's start with the fact that those states have higher crime rates in general. Population size, education level, economic disparities and others are statistically linked with higher crime levels. Until you can prove a causative link between strict laws and high gun violence, you don't have causation, you have a coincidence.

So even a famous sniper is not safe in a gun zone where I assume everyone had a gun. There is absolutely no logic to any of your arguments.

Tillie, Your example was not exactly a mass murder. I noticed in another post you mentioned murders in the streets (like Chicago) where there is gun restriction. You ate telling me that there is no logic to my arguments. Look in the mirror buddy.

I totality agree Judge Baird. The state house is much like a courtroom, classroom, and a hospital. Why would anyone want guns in any of those places other than to make people to uncomfortable when the weapon is seen. Install metal detectors and security guards to prevent these mentally ill people from harming folks to satisfy their need for blood.

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