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Legislator warns N.H. will have ‘dead children’ if school gun ban passes

  • 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: 2/27/2019 7:10:53 PM

A Goffstown State Representative predicted New Hampshire would see a school shooting and “dead children” if lawmakers passed a statewide “gun-free zone” bill. 

The comments came during the debate for House Bill 564, which would establish a blanket ban on loaded firearms on school grounds or school buses, making exceptions for law enforcement officials and those picking up children who leave their unloaded firearms in their vehicles. 

The bill divided legislators from the start. But a graphic comment against the bill by Rep. John Burt, a Republican and strong gun rights advocate, set off an already-tense atmosphere.

“If this bill passes, there will be a school shooting in New Hampshire,” Burt said. “When that happens, there will be dead children. And the blood of those children will be on the hands of these people (who are voting for this).”

Before he was finished, the representative earned a sustained boo from some members in the chamber and a rebuke from Democratic Speaker Steve Shurtleff.

“I say to the representative from Goffstown, I must say I’m somewhat disappointed in your comments from the well,” Shurtleff said, referring to the podium for legislators. “You’ve always had a good way of expressing yourself and saying what you think, but you’ve crossed the lines a couple of times today.”

The exchange underscored the increasingly fraught landscape facing recent debates about firearms in the House, which in November flipped from Republican to Democratic control. In January, a debate over the ability of legislators to carry weapons on the house floor prompted at-times bitter remarks from speakers for and against. And a range of other Democratic bills to strengthen background checks and impose waiting periods have also brought out impassioned debate about the role of the Constitution and government overreach.

Wednesday’s bill, which passed 194-154, brought out otherwise familiar arguments. Supporters said it would help reduce the incidents of gun violence and deter dangerous behaviors. Opponents said it would make New Hampshire schools a target for would-be mass shooters.

Rep. Tony Lekas, a Hudson Republican, said the purpose of carrying weapons onto school property was to allow citizens to prevent the types of shooting the ban was meant to address.

“We carry our love,” he said. “Love for our lives, love for our familes’ lives, and love for the lives of other innocents around us.”

Supporters meanwhile, said it would keep firearm possession to members of law enforcement, who are better trained to handle attackers.

But the exchange about the Second Amendment sparked strong disagreement about the role of the First Amendment on the House floor, and the proper conduct for legislators.

“Mr. Speaker, the constitution of New Hampshire talks about freedom of speech on the floor,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican.

But Shurtleff defended the rebukes, saying that Burt’s language “lowers the credibility of this body.”

“In this body, we listen to the Constitution of the United States and more importantly of the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “We follow our house rules. We follow practice and precedent. But in this body, the rule of common decency and civility will always be paramount.”

The bill moves next to the House Criminal Justice Committee, where the debate will likely continue.

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