Mike Pence visit to State House brings metal detectors, security enhancements

  • Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Ankara, Turkey, on Oct. 17. Pence will be in New Hampshire today to submit President Donald Trump’s primary ballot in the first-in-the-nation state. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 11/6/2019 4:30:14 PM

It’s New Hampshire State House tradition: Firearms are allowed within the building with anyone eligible to carry them. For around four hours Thursday morning though, that practice will be put on hold.

As Vice President Mike Pence rolls into Concord to submit President Donald Trump’s name for the Republican state presidential primary, he’ll bring along a phalanx of Secret Service agents.

Those agents will take over security operations across the building, locking down most entryways and erecting temporary metal detectors, according to State House security officials.

“They take over,” said Joseph Burke, chief of protective services in the building. “It’s their building. We assist them in any way that we can, but it’s their requirements.”

Pence’s appearance will briefly transform daily life within the State House.

There are six entrance points within the building: four entrances from the outside and two tunnels connecting the Legislative Office Building and the State Office Building. On Thursday, all but two of those entrances, including the main one in front, will be cut off. The fluorescent LOB tunnel, a favorite of staffers and harried journalists, will also be shut off.

Instead, visitors may enter the north-east employee entrance on the ground floor or the accessible side door and ramp to the basement to the north. Metal detectors will appear at both points; any weapons must be surrendered or the visitor (or lawmaker) will be barred entry. The lockdown will likely extend from around 8 a.m. to noon.

Such security is standard operating procedure for any major government building, like courthouses, but for many statehouses, metal detectors and exhaustive security is out of the norm. New Hampshire has never had metal detectors; the last time they were set up by the Secret Service here was in 2015, when Hillary Clinton filed for the Democratic presidential primary.

In recent years, whether lawmakers can carry firearms – and where they can do it – has been the subject of bitter debate.

Gov. Chris Sununu pushed for and signed a “constitutional carry” law in 2017, allowing anyone eligible to own firearms to carry them in a concealed manner, in addition to carrying openly. But in early 2019, the Democratically-flipped House voted to ban firearms and deadly weapons from the State House, restoring an earlier ban that had been put in place by Democratic Speaker Terie Norelli.

Lawmakers may still carry firearms in hallways, on the plaza and in committee hearing rooms, and there are no similar bans in the Senate chamber.

The rule has been challenged in court by Goffstown Republican John Burt, who has called it unconstitutional, but the Merrimack County Superior Court dismissed the case after finding the House has the authority to set its own rules. Burt is appealing the case to the state Supreme Court.

Despite the rule’s passage, there’s little evidence of any enforcement. House lawmakers are required to check their firearms with building security before attending voting sessions, but none have done so since the rule has passed.

Thursday will be different. Secret Service agents and canines will sweep the building before the event, and agents will be on guard throughout the morning. Pence is scheduled to arrive to the Secretary of State’s office on the second floor around 10:40 a.m.

While Pence will arrive with Secret Service security, he is the only presidential candidate or campaign representative to get that treatment, which is provided for serving presidents and vice presidents and their immediate families. Some presidential campaigns hire their own security details, and New Hampshire State Police also usually assist.

Even Vice President Joe Biden, who will file his own name for office Friday, is not entitled to the 10 years of Secret Service protection given to former presidents, and the building will not be locked down, Burke said.

Apart from a clatter of national press and local supporters, Friday will be a day like any other.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com or at 369-3307.)

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