Wednesday January 2, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. -- Just as it was two years ago, guns in New Hampshire’s Statehouse will be debated when the Legislature convenes the new session Wednesday.

Democrats won control of the House in November’s election and propose to reinstitute a ban on guns and deadly weapons in the chamber and adjacent areas that Republicans repealed two years ago on the first day of the session.

A joint legislative committee controlled by Republicans for the past two years also repealed a ban on guns and dangerous weapons in the Statehouse complex, but House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, said Wednesday’s House vote on a rule change would only reinstitute the ban in its chamber and adjacent area.

Norelli said Democrats had been working on changing the rule before the massacre in December of 20 children and six adults who were gunned down in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Republicans will fight the ban, House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett said. He said he isn’t sure what it accomplishes.

Most lawmakers in his party "will vote against changing the rule, but it’s a sensitive time to be doing that, no question," he said.

Chandler pointed out that House rules forbid Statehouse security from searching lawmakers. He also said the rule would bar carrying weapons in the adjacent halls, but isn’t clear if that is 10 feet, 20 feet or more.


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"Are they subject to disciplinary action or arrest?" he said.

Norelli said it is a matter of members honoring House rules.

"Members will not be searched," she said.

The proposed ban is not a message against guns, said House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, a retired deputy U.S. marshal.

"We have thousands of fourth-graders who come to the Statehouse every year to learn about our history and their government. In some respects, this is their classroom. I don’t believe guns are appropriate in a learning environment," said Shurtleff, D-Concord.

Security will provide lawmakers with an area to lock up their guns while in the chamber, he said.

But Shurtleff acknowledged nothing prohibits anyone -- the public or lawmakers -- from carrying guns in the rest of the Statehouse complex, including in hearing rooms.

A House rule banning weapons in the chamber had been in place for 40 years before Republicans repealed it in 2011 and instead adopted a rule barring members from displaying weapons.

The ban on weapons in the Statehouse complex had been in place more than 16 years until it was repealed in 2006, said Norelli. It was reinstated the following year and remained in place until Republicans lifted it in 2011. Republicans left intact a rule giving security guards the right to search the public for weapons. Anyone who does not want to be searched has the right to leave the building. Nothing in the joint rules allows security to confiscate weapons.

The House also will vote on proposed rules changes that eliminate two committees Republicans created. One was to hear public grievances. The other reviewed the constitutionality of bills.

Chandler said Democrats have not proposed any alternatives to the functions the committees performed.

Norelli said many of the grievances were brought by people seeking to readjudicate court cases "which is not our purview." She said lawmakers can file bills to look into potential problems with the courts.

She said constitutional questions already are discussed in committees and debated on the House floor.

"We don’t need a special committee to do that," she said.

The House and Senate also will vote Wednesday on an emergency bill to address a problem with a tax cap adopted by the Newfound Area School District.

Democratic Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan will be inaugurated Thursday.