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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Democrats in the statehouse: Leave the guns at home

CONCORD – If you’re coming to the New Hampshire House, leave your guns at home as the new Democratic leadership re-imposed a gun possession ban on its first day of 2013 business Thursday.

At the urging of resurrected House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, the House altered its rules to reinstate a ban that the Republican-led House repealed in January 2011. The key vote was 196-153 largely along partisan lines with Democrats in support and most Republicans opposing it. ...

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CONCORD – If you’re coming to the New Hampshire House, leave your guns at home as the new Democratic leadership re-imposed a gun possession ban on its first day of 2013 business Thursday.

At the urging of resurrected House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, the House altered its rules to reinstate a ban that the Republican-led House repealed in January 2011. The key vote was 196-153 largely along partisan lines with Democrats in support and most Republicans opposing it.

House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, said that as a veteran and 30-year law enforcement executive, this debate was not about gun owner rights but public safety.

“I support the rights of gun owners in this state. I support the Second Amendment, and I support the ban on guns in this House chamber,” Shurtleff said.

House Majority Floor Leader Gary Richardson, R-Hopkinton, said it’s not the right message to have gun owners in the chamber where fourth-graders are often seated in the gallery to watch the House while in session.

“It is very intimidating to be at the well and know there could be armed people above me, and I’m not able to defend myself,” Richardson said.

Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, said women lawmakers who lack the physical strength of male counterparts are more at risk with a gun ban.

“If I can carry a concealed gun, no one has to know. It stays hidden but is within reach if some nut job tries to harm me,” Notter said.

Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack, warned the vote could only invite a mass tragedy as at the Sandy Hook (Conn.) Elementary School last month, where a Kingston native gunned down 20 children and six educators.

“By removing handguns from the Statehouse, you will create a gun-rich target much as was done at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.,” Peterson said.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Derry, said the gun ban was meaningless as someone watching outside the chamber could fire a gun, and it made legislators and the public even less safe.

“I am asking you to do the right thing and not disarm the legislators,” said Baldasaro, a Marine veteran. “This is a feel-good rule with no meat.”

There are nine legislative chambers where gun possession is allowed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the change doesn’t alter gun possession and concealed weapon carry being allowed in the rest of the Statehouse or in the Legislative Office Building across the street.

Both bodies control all those quarters and the Republican-led Senate is not about to change its permissive gun policy, said Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

Former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, had championed the gun freedom rule that won support of the GOP-led House and the House-Senate, Legislative Facilities Committee that controls the rest of the property.

Bragdon said it’s unlikely the facilities panel will be asked to take a stand.

“Perhaps the speaker will not bring it to us because she knows at best it would be a tie vote,” Bragdon observed.

On Wednesday, O’Brien was relegated from the rostrum where he held the gavel for two years to an aisle seat in the last row of the chamber. He dubbed the rule change “radical gun-control legislation” in giving the final, impassioned speech against the rule that wrapped up the three-hour debate.

“If you believe, as I believe, that the constitutional right of self-protection is a natural right of human beings, one that cannot be denied by act of rule or statute,” O’Brien said. “You know that those who would do us harm know to go to gun-free killing zones to do their violence.”

The full House also endorsed Norelli’s desire to get rid of two policy committees, one to hear the grievance petitions from members of the public and the other to hear matters of constitutional law and revising state statutes.

Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, praised O’Brien for creating the redress panel that is directly cited in the constitution about the Legislature’s duties.

“Our first obligation is for hearing the redress of public grievances,” Lambert said.

Rep. Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland and formerly deputy speaker, said the redress group had exposed systemic problems with state government.

“We saw there were bigger problems with certain agencies and certain people, and that’s what redress brought out and brought forward with regards to future action,” Tucker said.

But Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, noted the redress panel lacked the authority to create legislation from someone’s complaint and the Legislature already has this inherent power.

“To redress the petitions for grievances, we make laws,” Vaillancourt said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).