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'Speak softly, and carry a big gun'

Last modified: 1/10/2011 12:00:00 AM
For some New Hampshire lawmakers, happiness is a gun warmed by carrying it close to the body. With the state facing a whopping deficit, and despite promises of a laser-like focus on cutting spending, the House's Republican majority chose as its first action to repeal the ban on packing heat in the State House.

New Hampshire is an "open carry" state, which means that an adult can walk the streets with a six-gun on his hip or a shotgun under his arm. But perhaps so as not to appear quite so crazed on camera, lawmakers did accede to Speaker Bill O'Brien's call that weapons be concealed on the House floor and in the gallery that looks down on the legislative chamber. In the rest of the State House, however, lawmakers and visitors can dress like they're going to the O.K. Corral.

Pro gun-carrying lawmakers claim that an armed Legislature and citizenry will make the State House safer. But all a citizen needs is cash, a clean criminal record, and no documented history of mental illness in order to secure a $10 permit to carry a loaded weapon. No training or practice necessary. Some weapon carriers will be expert marksmen and women. But it would still be wise to hit the floor when the shooting starts.

Only a handful of states allow anyone other than law enforcement officers to possess a weapon in legislative chambers or in a State House. As far as we know, there has yet to be a shooting, accidental or otherwise, during a legislative session in those states. But guns do have a way of stifling debate - a de facto trumping of the First Amendment by the Second.

It's a sad sign of zealotry when a majority of lawmakers in the safest state in the nation believe that it's necessary or wise to permit loaded weapons in a deliberative chamber. It's especially disturbing that even after armed visitors intimidated some lawmakers and visitors by standing and brandishing guns during a 2009 debate on states' rights, Republicans voted overwhelmingly to permit visitors to be armed when in the gallery that looks down on the House floor.

Hudson Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper, employing logic we agree with, argued that it would be wrong to deny a citizen in the State House the same right to carry a weapon afforded lawmakers. After all, if a lawmaker starts shooting at a visitor, the visitor should be able to shoot back. But rights under the Second Amendment are limited. Prohibitions against possessing a weapon in courtrooms, schools and other public buildings are constitutional. New Hampshire law, for example, prohibits the carrying of weapons on university campuses, yet maniacal shootings of the sort the pro-concealed weapon lawmakers say their guns will help prevent are far more common on campuses than in statehouses. Will New Hampshire's campus gun ban be the next to be lifted?

The Republican majority has chosen a bizarre start to its takeover of the Legislature, one that made national news. It followed up with a goofy witch hunt in hopes of unseating a member of the rival party. One can only wonder what quarry will be in their sights next.


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