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Local reps weigh in on State House chamber gun ban

  • The State House in Concord, home to the state House of Representatives FILE PHOTO

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/7/2019 5:05:44 PM

On the first day of the new session in the state House of Representatives, lawmakers amended house rules to ban firearms and other deadly weapons from the House floor and gallery.

“Most people recognize there are certain places it’s not appropriate to be carrying firearms,” House Majority Leader Douglas Ley of Jaffrey said in an interview Thursday. “Schools, courts, and the floor of the legislature. There’s no need for it whatsoever.”

On Wednesday, the House voted 220 to 163 in favor of banning “deadly weapons” in the House chamber, House gallery, and in the anterooms and cloakrooms.

The House has ping-ponged back and forth on the issue of firearms in the chambers. Until 2011, guns were not allowed in the House, and since, the rule has been abolished and put back into place multiple times, depending on which party had control in the House at the time.

The vote this year was also almost entirely down party lines, with only four Democrats voting to continue to allow firearms to be carried in the House chamber, and only one Republican voting against allowing them. 

With the ban in place, lawmakers and people sitting in the gallery can check their weapons to be secured in a lockbox prior to entering the chamber, and reclaim them on their departure.

Chis Balch (D-Lyndeborough), a representative of Hillsborough District 38, said in an interview Thursday he voted against allowing guns in the chamber, despite being a gun owner who occasionally carries for personal protection.

“I was perhaps more sympathetic to the Republican side than some of my fellow Democrats,” Balch said.

But, he said, he was unconvinced by arguments that not allowing lawmakers to carry firearms would create a safety or security issue.

“We have a trained and armed security force, and immediate access to state police. I feel like security is a non-issue,” Balch said.

There have been at least two instances of New Hampshire lawmakers dropping guns while in committee meetings at the statehouse – Kyle Tasker in 2012 and Carolyn Halstead in 2017. Neither is still serving as a Representative, and the weapon was not discharged in either case, but Balch said those incidents were cause for concern.

“That’s disturbing to me, and speaks to the fact that people who may be carrying firearms may not be well trained,” he said.

“We have had enough mishaps already,” Ley said, referring to the instances of dropped weapons. “If you continue to do this, you are waiting for a tragedy to happen. Why wait for the tragedy and then act?”

Republican State Representative Jim Fedolfi of Hillsborough, who represents Hillsborough District 1, said he thought the law was unnecessary.

“It primarily impacts elected representatives,” Fedolfi said in an interview Thursday. “Every one of those representatives were voted in by people in the state as someone that they want representing them. If you can’t trust your elected representatives to be reasonable and responsible, who can you trust?”

Fedolfi said he does not own or carry a gun, but he is aware of other lawmakers who carry a gun in the state House, and it has never made him feel uncomfortable. 

He also did have concerns about safety. 

“It puts us in a position of being sitting ducks,” he said.

Republican John O’Day of Rindge, who represents Rindge and Fitzwilliam, said creating a gun-free zone leaves the state House a place where “anyone can come along that has a weapon and open fire.”

O’Day said he’s never carried on the House floor.

“But the thing is, that I didn’t think I had to, because a lot of people did, and I felt safe walking into the statehouse,” he said. “Now, I don’t.”

Representative Peter Leishman of Peterborough was one of the few Democrats who voted against the weapons ban. Mostly, he said, because there’s no way to make sure the rule is being followed.

“A number of representatives have said they will not abide by it, and there’s no way to make a member of the House abide by it,” Leishman said. “It seemed like a feel-good measure. It’s window dressing.”

Leishman said while serving in the House while the weapons ban rule was in place, he knew of several representatives who still carried their guns, and had never seen anyone be censured or removed from the chamber or have any other repercussions.  

While the House isn’t going to be actively looking for violators of the House rules, if it comes to the attention of the House speaker that someone is violating the rules, there can be consequences. While the rule specifically precludes searches of House members by the House’s security officer, if a House member is seen carrying a weapon, it can become a disciplinary matter, Ley said. 

“The person can be disciplined for violating House rules, which can include any number of things, up to including arrest for disorderly conduct for violating the rules of the House,” Ley said. “That’s an obvious violation of the House rules, and it’s the Speaker’s prerogative on how to respond.”

The rule itself specifically states those who violate the rule can be subject to ejection from the chamber and gallery by order of the speaker of the House, and disciplinary action or arrest or both by action of the House. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 


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