No Place for Guns in the NH State House

(originally published as an Op-Ed in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

One of the first orders of business for the Republican controlled (by a margin of 3-1) NH House was to vote to allow guns on the NH House floor, in the House gallery and in the Legislative Office Building. According to the Concord Monitor, David Bettencourt, the Republican Majority Leader said, “The right to carry and bear arms is a constitutional right, it’s an individual right, and we shall be allowed to protect ourselves on the House floor.” I never felt my life was in danger when I was there.  Who are they going to shoot – each other?

As a gun owner myself and after serving in the NH House for ten years, I feel compelled to speak out on the vote to allow guns in the State House and Legislative Office Building.   I knew of no one I served with that didn’t support the Second Amendment which states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  I have always found it puzzling that the use of the Second Amendment is used to justify carrying guns everywhere and anywhere.  When the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791 one was lucky to get his musket loaded and get a shot off before getting hit by an arrow or two.

During my time of service in the House, both Republican and Democratic controlled Houses, and for 30 years prior (since 1971) guns were banned from the House.  Most members believed the House was no place for dangerous weapons as passions run high, people lose patience, members of the public and legislature get mad at one another.

Guns and other dangerous weapons aren’t allowed in courtrooms for all of the same reasons. I have witnessed heated debates on such matters as abortion and parental notification that have spilled out from a committee room to a hallway.  However, you could always count on a more than able on-duty NH State Police officer or a member of the State House security detail to be nearby and provide the necessary presence to keep an argument from potentially getting violent.

I recall last year a Republican House member saying on the House floor they feared for their safety walking to the parking garage and should be allowed to carry a gun at all times – yet all members know the State Police or security staff are more than willing to walk any member to their car.  I know of no incident when a member of the House has ever been threatened walking to the legislative parking garage.

If the Republican majority leader is correct by saying they have the right “to protect ourselves on the House floor” then this would lead most of us who have served in the House to ask the question – from whom?  Certainly not from the hundreds of New Hampshire school children that visit the State House every year. However, in light of the tragic events in Tucson this past weekend when US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot and others were shot and killed, we should be looking at making the State House a safer place for the public as well. To allow everyone to carry a gun, in my opinion, will not accomplish that goal.

What next will the Republican majority set its sights on?   Perhaps, a motion to remove a recently elected representative because he serves as the Executive Director of the Democratic Party?  Ah, yes. That hearing is on Thursday.  Stay tuned.

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