Debate About Gun-Free Zones at Statehouse Revived with Democrats Back in Power

  • A man wears an unloaded pistol during a pro gun-rights rally at the state capitol, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Gun rights supporters rallied across the United States to counter a recent wave of student-led protests against gun violence. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Concord Monitor
Published: 12/19/2018 11:55:43 PM

Legislators who carry their guns to work might have to stop the practice after the House rules committee recommended a rule change to stop members from carrying firearms on the House floor, setting up the potential reversal of the contested policy once Democrats retake control.

In a 6-4 party-line vote, the Democratic-controlled committee passed an amendment to House Rule 63 to ban firearms and other weapons, moving the recommendation to the full House next term.

The rule would prevent any member of the House from possessing a “deadly weapon” either on the House floor or in the gallery, the coat room or the anteroom. A deadly weapon can include a firearm, knife or any substance “known to be capable of producing death or serious bodily injury,” according to New Hampshire law.

Any members in violation “shall be subject to ejection” from those areas, as well as any disciplinary action or arrest “by action of the House.” The amendment would not apply to members of the public or law enforcement on active duty from carrying weapons.

Wednesday’s vote was the first step in restoring a policy that’s swung wildly in recent years. The weapons ban was first introduced under Democrat Terri Norelli’s first tenure as speaker, then repealed by Republican Speaker Bill O’Brien, restored by Norelli in her second tenure and repealed again in 2014 under Republican Speaker Shawn Jasper.

On Wednesday, the issue prompted heated debate. Democrats argued the provision would head off potential careless accidents; Republicans invoked gun-rights concerns and called the move unnecessary.

“There is no compelling reason for this right now,” said Republican Leader Dick Hinch, a Merrimack Republican. “There has been no incident whatsoever that has caused us to feel that we need to react in this fashion.”

Other Republican representatives said the move would make the chamber less safe, creating a “gun-free zone” and placing an unrealistic burden on the armed state troopers that presently stand watch over the House gallery.

Democrats countered that removing members’ firearms from the chamber would increase safety, pointing out two incidents in past years where guns were dropped by legislators during hearings and voting days.

And they brought up elementary school trips to the Statehouse, arguing that the guns posed a particular risk.

“I think it’s very advisable because of the presence of the fourth-graders,” said Rep. Lucy Weber. “There’s been a chilling effect on schools’ willingness to send their children here.”

Rep. Bob Greene, a Hudson Republican, had a different take. “In the last few years, fourth-graders coming to the school have never been more secure,” he said. “When a lot of us are carrying in the House, there’s a lot of protection for anyone.”

Speaking from the audience, Rep. Mike Silvia challenged Democratic Speaker Steve Shurtleff on the intent behind the rule change, arguing it showed low faith in the rank and file.

But Shurtleff disagreed.

“I have tremendous respect for all 400 members of the House and I respect them to do the right thing by our House rules,” he said.

The measure is set to go before the Democratic-controlled House for a final vote next month.

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