In the name of self defense, legislators can again carry guns in the State House

Last modified: 1/9/2015 12:19:26 AM
Legislators can again carry guns in the House chamber.

In one of the first acts of the new legislative session, the Republican-controlled House voted yesterday to allow concealed weapons in the chamber, gallery and cloakrooms, arguing the measure is needed for self-defense.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Rep. John Burt, a Goffstown Republican. “It is our duty to protect ourselves.”

Under the policy, which passed by a vote of 228-149, brandishing a weapon would only be allowed in self-defense. Carrying a concealed weapon in other parts of the State House and Legislative Office Building is already allowed.

“We’re not talking about irresponsible people running around, waving guns in the air,” said Rep. Fred Rice, a Hampton Republican. “Concealed carry provides the added security.”

Democrats, for their part, said allowing firearms in the House gallery and floor puts representatives and bystanders in danger.

“Bullets don’t always hit their intended target,” said Democratic Rep. Len DiSesa, a former Portsmouth police officer. “Once that round is fired you cannot take it back
. . . that puts all of us at risk.”

The vote yesterday revives a firearm policy most recently approved under former Republican speaker Bill O’Brien.

On the first day of the 2011 session, the Republican-controlled House voted to allow concealed weapons in the chamber, overturning a long-standing rule against the practice.

Two years later, Democrats won control of the House and reinstated a ban on weapons in the chamber.

The House overturned that yesterday, although some members said not much will change because many representatives continued to carry guns anyway.

“It was a feel-good rule. 
. . . Do you think that stopped us? No, it didn’t,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican. He, and several others, declined to say whether they were carrying yesterday. “The nice thing about concealed carry, is nobody needs to know,” he said.

The gun issue has triggered several debates in recent years about where and when people can carry weapons in the State House.

After Republicans won majorities in both the House and Senate in the 2010 election, they led a successful effort to lift the ban on carrying weapons in parts of the State House and Legislative Office Building, a policy still in place. That ban was instituted in 2009, when Democrats controlled the chambers. Before that, a ban on firearms in the State House complex had been in effect between 1996 and 2006.

The State House has no metal detectors. Security guards who patrol the premises are not armed, but the force is supplemented by state police officers who do carry weapons.

Baldasaro is proposing a bill backed by six other state representatives to arm certain security officers who patrol the State House. “We want to make sure we have a little extra protection,” he said.

In the past, State House gun policy has garnered widespread attention. Several news stories on the subject appeared in 2012, after Northwood Republican Rep. Kyle Tasker dropped his concealed handgun on the floor as he was entering a committee hearing.

Accidents like that, Democratic Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff argued, are why concealed carry shouldn’t be allowed in the chamber.

“I don’t wish to see that in this body, and most importantly I don’t want to see that in the visiting gallery,” he said.



(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)




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