Guns in the House Chamber

The House of Representatives convenes this Wednesday in Concord to adopt deadlines

and rules of operation for the next two years. While the rules of the House typically

produce little fanfare for the media, one proposed rule change could have a significant

effect on safety and security in the State House.

The Republican majority in the House has proposed removing the current ban on carrying

guns and other deadly weapons in the House chamber and the visitors’ gallery. Deadly

weapons were first prohibited in the House back in 1971 after a fellow lawmaker

threatened House Speaker Marshall Cobleigh. Aside from the two year period that

Speaker Bill O’Brien wielded the gavel, the policy has remained in place since.

Whenever proposals to restrict firearm possession are brought up, emotions

understandably run high. The right to own and use firearms under the second amendment

is defended with vigor. I have great respect for the second amendment, having served in

the US Army and retired as a Supervisory Deputy US Marshal. I appreciate that

restrictions on firearms are only enacted after careful scrutiny and vetting by lawmakers

and the courts.

There are some places, however, where nearly everyone acknowledges that reasonable

restrictions are just and necessary. Policies that keep guns out of schools and

courthouses, for instance, are widely regarded as common-sense restrictions.

The New Hampshire General Court is in many ways a school and a courthouse. Busloads

of children come to the State House every day to watch the proceedings, with thousands

of students coming through every year to see democracy in action.

On most days, this convergence of democracy and classroom produces positive results.

Debates often become passionate, but remain respectful, as students get a first-hand look

at how laws are made.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I vividly remember one day when the

Merrimack Valley Girls Field Hockey team was in the gallery earning recognition for

winning their state championship. Up for debate that day was a resolution supporting

states’ rights, a measure that was debated and ultimately defeated on the House floor.

A couple hundred people showed up in support of the resolution, and when the losing

vote was announced, many stood up and began shouting, heckling, and outright

threatening House members. Videos of the incident show people hurling a range of

insults at lawmakers, from the benign (“see you in November”) to actual violent threats

(“off with your heads”). It was a mob scene unlike anything most lawmakers had ever

seen, and many understandably feared for their safety.

What made this incident particularly troubling was that many in the angry mob were

visibly carrying guns. Luckily no accidents occurred. I heard from one of the teachers

sitting in the gallery and assured her that this is not the way we usually conduct business.

While this particular incident exemplifies the perils of allowing guns in the State House,

day-to-day events also show that the potential for accidents is great. During the term that

gun possession was permitted under Speaker O’Brien, there were three separate incidents

where lawmakers accidentally dropped their firearm on the floor of a crowded area.

The House chamber and visitors’ gallery is not an appropriate or necessary place for

people to bring their guns. The troopers and security personnel who patrol the State

House are trained to deal with any situations that may occur.

I support the second amendment, but this is not a second amendment issue. It is simply a

matter of public safety.