Lawmakers Lift Ban On Guns In Statehouse
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    Lawmakers Lift Ban On Guns In Statehouse

    A Republican-dominated legislative committee voted Tuesday to repeal a year-old ban on guns and dangerous weapons in the New Hampshire Statehouse complex.

    Republican members of the Joint Legislative Facilities Committee and ban opponents cited the public's constitutional rights to bear guns and defend themselves as the reasons why the change was warranted.

    They left intact a rule giving security guards the right to search people for weapons. Anyone who does not want to be searched has the right to leave the building. Nothing in the rules allows security to confiscate weapons.

    Weapons at the Statehouse became a concern when people with guns stood and shouted at lawmakers from the House gallery in March 2009. The disturbance was during debate and votes on a resolution to reaffirm the state's freedom from interference by the federal government. The resolution failed.

    Democrats controlled the Legislature then and reinstated a weapons ban that had been in place from 1996 to 2006.

    "Gun free zones, if we wake up and smell the coffee, are a killing zone," state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, told the committee in seeking the ban's repeal Tuesday.

    Reps. Jennifer Coffey, R-Andover, and Susan DeLemus, R-Rochester, testified that they did not feel safe walking to the legislative garage where their cars are parked.

    "I'm feeling very threatened as I walk past people who seem a little shady," said DeLemus.

    Ban supporters said the public, particularly schoolchildren, touring the Statehouse shouldn't be put at risk. Police have the training, not the public, to deal with volatile situations, they said. They also said police would have a hard time distinguishing among those with guns who were defending themselves from the aggressors if the ban was lifted.

    Former state Rep. Valerie Hardy, a Litchfield Democrat, read a list of incidents around the nation involving gun violence.

    "There's too much violence in this world," she said.

    House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt of Salem challenged her.

    "The vast majority of places where those took place were gun free zones, were they not?" he said.

    "I can't understand why people feel they have to have a gun everywhere they go," she replied.

    Carol Backus of Manchester said gun rights are not absolute and the Statehouse should be a safe haven, particularly for schoolchildren touring with their classes.

    "Why should random members of the public be allowed to carry loaded handguns into Representatives Hall or the governor's office?" she said.

    Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord was the lone Democrat present and voted against the repeal.

    "Our most important job this session is to address economic issues," she said. "We're spending our first day addressing an issue I fear will cause problems over time."

    She predicted difficult debates would produce "passion, disappointment and defeats."

    "Our job is to promote civil discourse and not to allow disruption," she said.

    The House also will consider changing its rules Wednesday to allow people to carry weapons in the House chamber, anterooms, cloakrooms or any area of the Statehouse adjacent to those rooms. The rule will prohibit their display, but will allow them to use weapons in self-defense and to defend others.

    Currently, only law enforcement officers can carry deadly weapons on the House floor or adjacent areas.

    The change would leave it to the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms to keep order in the respective chambers. State police and the Legislature's chief of protective services would keep order in other areas of the complex.

    Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said he did not know of a similar proposal to the Senate's rules.

    Lawmaker: Gun Free Zones ... Are Killing Zones
    Last edited by lukem; 01-07-2011 at 10:31 PM.



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