Editorial: Give House gun ban more teeth

Published: 1/13/2019 12:05:14 AM

People who refuse to obey the law should not be making laws governing others. Eight House Republicans, in a letter penned by Auburn Rep. Jess Edwards, announced their intention to ignore Rule 63, the newly restored ban on the possession of deadly weapons in the House chambers, cloakroom and gallery.

Republican Rep. John Burt, another opponent of Rule 63, said, “I want to make sure every crazy out there that loves to go to these gun-free zones and do their killing understand one thing: I, Rep. John Burt of Goffstown, will not be a victim in my House, the people’s house, because you guys have the majority.”

Violating the weapons ban can result in ejection from the House or arrest on disorderly conduct charges, but the rule enacted by the Democratic majority set the stage for confusion and conflict because it forbids House security officers from stopping and searching members believed to be armed. That was a mistake. Even in the Live Free or Die state, the State House, a landmark visited regularly by schoolchildren, like a courthouse or airport, is no place for amateurs carrying concealed weapons.

Presumably if, as has happened twice in recent years, a pistol-packing legislator’s firearm falls on the floor, the representative will be disciplined. House Speaker Steven Shurtleff, himself a veteran of law enforcement and the military, should not wait for that to happen. Nor should he allow representatives to flout the law.

The extreme viewpoints expressed in the sophomoric joint letter, which appeared in the Monitor on Jan. 8, suggest that not all of the signers can be expected to act reasonably and check their weapons with security before entering the chamber.

“Contrary to popular belief, the New Hampshire House will not be a gun-free zone,” Edwards wrote.

Some state representatives view the right of self-defense as a natural right, one incapable of abridgment by state and federal law. “Our right to self-defense cannot be infringed by any government body,” Edwards wrote. Not even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who authored the Heller decision that declared gun ownership to be an individual right, agreed with that position.

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” the conservative justice wrote.

Edwards’s letter repeats the refuted claim that 98 percent of mass shootings occur in gun-free zones and somehow conflates Henry David Thoreau’s civil disobedience, for which Thoreau went to jail, with the My Lai massacre of helpless civilians during the Vietnam War.

Asking members like the letter’s signers if they’re armed would no doubt result in a refusal to answer, or a “might, might not” response. They are living in the fantasy of being the good guy or woman with a gun who stops the “bad guy with a gun,” and the element of surprise is important. An alleged bad guy must never know which legislator might shoot him.

We have a suggestion. The Legislature is the General Court of New Hampshire. State law RSA 159:19 makes it a felony to “knowingly carry a loaded or unloaded pistol, revolver, or firearm or any other deadly weapon ... whether open or concealed or whether license or unlicensed, upon the person or within any of the person’s possessions owned or with the person’s control in a courtroom or area used by the court.”

That law’s ban, as written, applies only to buildings dedicated exclusively for court use. It should be expanded by the current Legislature to include the General Court. Lawmakers then found to be armed would become felons, people forbidden by law from owning a firearm.

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