Judge dismisses case seeking to allow guns back into N.H. House chamber

  • Rep. John Burt of Goffstown (left) and Rep. Dan Iste of Fremont, both Republicans, lead a New Hampshire Liberty Alliance-sponsored tour of the State House as the first event on the NH Liberty Forum’s calendar.

Monitor staff
Published: 8/1/2019 6:45:10 PM

Gun supporters were dealt a blow on Thursday as a lawsuit seeking to undo a rule banning firearms inside Representatives Hall in the State House was dismissed in Merrimack County Superior Court.

But Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, the plaintiff in the case, said the Superior Court judge’s decision was not a surprise and he is “looking ahead to the Supreme Court.”

“They’re the only ones that can really decide this,” Burt told the Monitor on Thursday. “The lower courts do not like getting involved when it is a major constitutional case.”

In January, the House, which had just swung to a Democratic majority, voted to ban firearms and other deadly weapons from the House floor, gallery and anteroom. The vote drew opposition from several lawmakers who said the rule violated their second-amendment rights.

Judge John Kissinger Jr. upheld the state legislature’s authority to make its own rules.

“It is the constitutional duty of the judiciary to review laws passed by the legislature, not the rules of proceedings within the legislative chambers,” he wrote in his ruling.

“The judiciary does not stand above the other two branches of government,” he wrote. “To the contrary, the three branches of government are co-equal, each with the inherent authority to set their own rules of proceedings and conduct within their respective chambers.”

A statement issued from the office of House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said the court “affirmed that House rule 63 was not in violation of the constitution and the House does have the right to set their own rules.”

“I am pleased the court has upheld that right,” Shurtleff said.

But Kissinger’s written order does not weigh in on the constitutionality of the law, Burt said.

“The Speaker is wrong and he should correct this,” Burt said. “It said nothing about this being (constitutional), which I still think it isn’t.  The court did not say either way. They said they’re not getting involved, which we expected anyway.”

After the vote to ban guns, a group of Republican state representatives responded in a Jan. 2 letter vowing to disobey the rule that they saw as unconstitutional.

On the advice of his attorney, Burt declined to say whether or not he has continued bringing a firearm into the House chamber. 

“I was very clear on Jan. 2 of my intentions,” he said. “I know Democrats and other Republicans that are continuing to carry in the House. ... They want to say ‘We’re safe and gun-free,’ but they know we’re not.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)

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