CONCORD, N.H. – The New Hampshire House of Representatives has voted 196-153 to ban guns from the House floor, gallery and anterooms.
The move on Jan. 2 reverses a rule implemented in the previous legislation session, when Republicans enjoyed majority control.
On the first work day of the 2013 legislative session, the recent Democratic electoral gains were noteworthy: Democrats, led by House Speaker Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) turned back several Republican attempts to scuttle the rule change.
Debate on the rule grew emotional at times as state representatives referenced constitutional rights, the Second Amendment and the deadly school shooting in Newtown, CT.
Rep. Lenette Peterson (R-Merrimack) said it is a matter of personal and public safety.
"By removing handguns from the Statehouse, you will create a target-rich environment similar to the one created by having a gun-free zone in and around the elementary school in Newtown, CT," she said.
Rep. Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry), who noted from the well of the House that he carries a concealed firearm, said there were no problems with allowing members to carry.
"This is the people's house in the state of New Hampshire," he said. "We take the Second Amendment to heart here."
Baldasaro said lawmakers should be going after criminals; "instead, we're going after law-abiding citizens."
Rep. Gary Richardson (D-Hopkinton), who proposed an amendment to clarify where the ban would be in effect, noted he was also a gun owner. But, he said, there must be reasonable restrictions to the Constitutional right to own and carry firearms.
Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown) was one of the House members trying to thwart the rule change. "If we become a gun-free zone," he said, "we're sitting ducks."
The rule change, the first sentence of which was contested, reads in part that 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..." in the House chamber, anteroom, cloak room and gallery.
House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Concord) said the rule pertains only to the House of Representatives, and had been effect, prior to the last two years, for more than 40 years.
"I support the Second Amendment," Shurtleff said in a statement reflecting his remarks from the House floor. "And I support this House Rule to ban guns from the House floor. Fourth graders visit our Statehouse every year including the House gallery. Accidents happen. Guns get dropped. I would hate to have an accident, or worse, happen while our fourth graders, and other innocent persons, were visiting our state's seat of government."
The Speaker's Office noted that gun locks are provided in a secure place in the Statehouse for state representatives who wish to carry guns to and from the building.