Despite ban, N.H. lawmakers say they will continue to carry guns in the State House

  • Second Amendment supporters gather outside the New Hampshire Statehouse on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Concord, N.H., ahead of a vote whether to ban firearms in Representatives Hall. Rules on allowing firearms have flipped back and forth depending on which party has the majority. Democrats, who took control in November, hope to restore the ban. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

Monitor staff
Published: 1/7/2019 2:28:15 PM

A group of Republican state representatives are vowing to disobey a new rule banning firearms on the House floor, calling it “illegitimate” and dangerous.

In a letter to the Monitor , Auburn Rep. Jess Edwards and seven other members of his party denounced the new rule as unconstitutional, arguing that representatives had no obligation to follow it.

“We view Rule 63 as illegitimate,” the group wrote, referring to the new change, which passed the House last week. “We view Rule 63 as having the perverse effect of increasing the risk to everyone in the House gallery and chambers.”

(Read the text of the letter: New Hampshire House will not be a soft target)

They added: “Due to our willingness to exercise our constitutional rights and because any attempt to disarm House members is foolish public policy, we reserve the right to refuse to comply.”

In its Jan. 2 session – the first of the new year – the newly-Democratic  House voted to ban firearms and other deadly weapons  from the House floor, gallery, and anteroom.

 Representatives are expected to turn in any weapons to State House security before entering the House floor on voting days, according to Shurtleff. Any representatives in defiance of the rule may be ejected or even arrested, the rule states.

The amended rule, a restoration of a policy last seen in 2014, set off a firestorm from the outset. In passionate speeches Wednesday, Republican representatives pointed to death threats they had received from members of the public and argued banning firearms would make them unsafe.

Democrats, meanwhile, countered that the presence of any firearms on the House floor constituted a threat, and that the ban would reduce the risk of dangerous accidents. 

In an interview Monday, Democratic Speaker Steve Shurtleff declined to comment on what action he might take in response to the letter, but said that the office was ready to enforce the new rule.

“I think any negative action invites a negative consequence,” he said. “So as always, we always hope for the best. There are methods to deal with those actions that are contrary to the running of the New Hampshire House.”

But he added that he had faith that the letter-writers would not follow through with the promise to violate the ban.

“I would not think – you know, knowing the members involved, they’re all honorable people,” Shurtleff said. “They’re members of Republican leadership. I cannot believe that they would do anything that would be contrary to the New Hampshire House.”

Before and after debate Wednesday, some opponents of the ban vowed to independently ignore it if it passed, but Monday’s letter was the first concerted and public effort to do so.

In laying out their case, the representatives invoked the June 2017 shooting at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., in which a politically-motivated gunman took aim at Republican legislators, and critically wounded then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

And they argued that while the House has the ability to pass rules, it “does not have the authority to strip Representatives of their rights.” 

Any rule that does that, the lawmakers wrote, is a violation of lawmakers’ “natural rights” and should be ignored.

“There are times when the acts of a majority are so repugnant to the dignity of the individual that the act itself is cast asunder,” the representatives wrote. “The act removes itself from the realm of legitimate government authority and is to be ignored, if not openly held in disdain.”

But Shurtleff rejected the premise, declaring the House rule in line with other forms of gun restrictions. 

“The Supreme Court’s already held under the Second Amendment that certain bodies have the right to ban firearms, including legislators and jails, courts and airplanes,” he said. “So that’s already been adjudicated and there’s already court decisions on that. We don’t really follow natural rights as an argument.”

In their letter, the representatives made reference to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, in which hundreds of unarmed civilians were murdered by U.S. soldiers. The incident provided a teaching moment for disobeying “unlawful orders,” the New Hampshire lawmakers argued. 

And they said their resistance to the rule was meant as a deterrent for would-be shooters. 

“Contrary to popular belief, the N.H. House will NOT be a gun-free zone,” the lawmakers wrote. “Any violent extremist who thinks that we’ve become a soft target needs to reassess the situation.”

Edwards was joined by seven other Republican representatives: Alicia Lekas, of Hudson; Al Baldasaro, of Londonderry; Greg Hill, of Northfield; Howard Pearl, of Loudon; Mark Warden, of Manchester; Chris True, of Sandown; and Jeanine Notter, of Merrimack.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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