NH Rep says, ‘I’m still going to carry,’ after vote to ban guns in House chamber

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Victoria Sullivan of Manchester, a former state rep, spoke during the 2nd Amendment rally outside the State House. Photo/Marc Nozell

Click here to view the Jan. 2, 2019 House Session discussion begins at about 10:53 and the vote is called at about 12:10

CONCORD, NH — NH House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 220 to 163 to in favor of a rules change, banning “deadly weapons” from the state house.

Prior to the vote, several opposed to the amendment held a protest outside the State House, in defense of their 2nd Amendment right to carry arms.

As written the amendment to House Rule 63 reads as follows:

Deadly weapons; electronic devices; cameras. No person, including members of the House, except law enforcement officers while actively engaged in carrying out their duties as such, shall carry or have in possession any deadly weapon as defined in RSA 625:11, V while in the House Chamber, anterooms, cloakrooms, or House gallery. Any person in violation of this rule shall be subject to ejection from any such premises on the order of the Speaker and disciplinary action or arrest or both by action of the House. Nothing in this rule shall indicate that the security officer appointed by the House under Rule 61 has the right to stop and search a member of the House on the premises of the House. With the exception of devices for the hearing impaired, no member shall operate audible electronic transmitting and/or receiving devices nor shall any member operate a video camera or a camera utilizing flash bulbs on the floor of the House, while the House is in session.”

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown

Several Representatives took the opportunity to speak for and against the amendment. Rep. James Berlanger, R-Hollis, introduced himself as a retired police officer who does not carry a weapon.

“This has become such a problem with reps brandishing firearms and scaring folks,” Berlanger said, tongue in cheek. “This is a solution begging for a problem,” he said, “and when it becomes a problem, lets find a solution, and  let’s not open ourselves to the terrorists who would then know this is a gun-free zone.”

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, said that in light of the proposed “anti-gun, anti-Constitution, anti-God rule change,” he wanted it to be known that he would not “be a victim in my own house, as in the people’s house,” and that “I’m still going to carry, as I always have and always will,” regardless of whether the rule change passed.

The rest of the State House is pro-gun space, Burt said, and he has carried his gun into Gov. Chris Sununu’s office and the rest of the State House.

“It has been proven that gun-free zones have turned into killing zones,” Burt said.

Rep. Tim Smith, D-Manchester, wanted to refresh his colleagues on where the long-standing rule disallowing weapons in the chamber originated. He referenced a political memoir penned by GOP House Speaker Marshall Cobleigh who, in 1971, recounted how he was threatened by a fellow representative who had a pistol inside the House chamber.

Rep. Tim Smith, D-Manchester, at right, addresses the House on the gun rule.

There was no rule at that time disallowing guns inside the chamber, and so a rule was enacted and remained in place until the rule was changed in 2011 under a GOP majority. The rule has flip-flopped since, depending on which party rules the House.

Smith ended his comments by saying, “I would submit, Mr. Speaker, if there is a threat of gun violence in this chamber, that threat does not come from a nut in the gallery.”

Smith later clarified that he was not referring to any current member of the House as “a nut” but rather reciting the historical record of why the gun rule was enacted in the 1970s.

Rep. Katherine Rogers D-Concord

Rep. Alicia Lekas, R-Hudson, spoke against the rule change, saying it poses a “lose-lose dilemma” for women who would have to either disarm themselves and leave their firearms at home, or lock them in their cars, subjecting them to possible theft.

Lekas said leaving her gun at home is not an option, as she often has meetings after sessions in Concord, and often those meetings bring her to Manchester, where she does not feel safe walking alone without a firearm.

“Last month I had four such meetings … I had to park in the garage, and on my way to the garage I had to pass an adult book store and closed night club, with men drinking out of paper bags watching me as I went by,” Lekas said.  She told her colleagues that three times she was followed to the parking garage — which used to at least be staffed at night.

2nd Amendment protest outside of the NH State House on Jan. 2, 2019. Photo/Marc Nozell

“It’s a terrible choice we have to make, risk being mugged, raped or killed, or risking letting criminals get their hands on our firearms,” Lekas said.

Following the vote, Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, said it signaled a “return to civility” for NH legislators.

“Prior to 2011 NH House Rules did not allow for guns on the floor and that was just fine with members. There had never been a reason for a member to carry a gun. Ever. Then a new Speaker led an effort to allow lawmakers to carry guns on the chamber floor during sessions, reversing a policy that required lawmakers to check their guns outside the chambers,” Rogers said.
She said she rejects the gun lobby’s claim that any gun regulation is a violation of their 2nd Amendment rights, and cited a ruling by conservative Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia, in District of Columbia v. Heller, which reads in part,
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.  For example, concealed weapons prohibitions … possessions of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing condition and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
2nd Amendment rights advocate during protest on Wednesday, dressed in costume. Photo/Marc Nozell

Rogers went on to reference the incident in 2017 during which Rep. Carolyn Halstead, R-Milford, entered a committee hearing and, when she sat down, her loaded gun fell from her waistband to the floor. It did not discharge, but there were children present at the hearing in session, which was for full-day kindergarten.

Said Rogers, “The NH House serves as not only the seat of our government but as a classroom for our state and needs to be free of members ‘dropping’ weapons, and exposing our state’s children to the possibilities of dangerous and needless accidents. The NH House is a body that operates on the exchange of ideas and debate, not one that resorts to battle with weapons.”

The firearms ban was clearly the most divisive issue of the day starting outside with protesters on both sides before the session started. Many Republican opponents of the ban lined up to sign a petition against it after the vote.

It’s a new beginning in Concord with the House and Senate in Democratic hands for the first time since the 2009-2010 term.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said, “Let me be able to protect myself. If you don’t want to carry a gun, God bless you. Let me protect my family. Let me protect my children.”

Rep. Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey

Rep. Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey, said, “This is an issue of gun safety, public safety.

“We don’t want to wait as has been suggested until there is a problem because if we do that, we are waiting until there is a tragedy. We will be acting after the tragedy,” Ley said.

The safety and security of the members of the House, members of the public and especially the thousands of children who visit the House every year must be their greatest concern, he said.

“There are schools which no longer visit,” Ley said. “Let’s bring them back.”

In other business, a vote in favor of requiring mandatory sexual harassment training passed by a vote 284 to 92. In the past, the training was voluntary.

A 200 to 169 vote near the end of the session passed an amendment to Rule 100 adding one sentence mandating committee chairmen do their best at hearings to hear from constituents first and paid lobbyists last.

Nancy West of InDepthNH.org contributed to this report.

About Carol Robidoux 6505 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!