CONCORD, N.H. -- Democrats pushed through a ban on carrying guns and other deadly weapons on New Hampshire’s House floor and in its ante-room and gallery on Wednesday -- reversing course from two years ago when Republicans controlled the chamber.
The ban, approved 196-153, ends at the doors to the chamber, which mean lawmakers and the public can carry weapons elsewhere in the Statehouse complex.
As many as 10 other states allow the public to carry guns into their Statehouses, generally upon certain conditions such as obtaining a license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Republicans lifted a ban on weapons in the Statehouse complex two years ago that is not likely to be overturned. Republicans control the Senate and it would take an agreement by both chambers to reinstate the ban. Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said Wednesday he has not changed his opposition to a ban and would block its reinstatement.
House Speaker Terie Norelli and Democrats had been working on changing the House 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.
Democrats, who took control of the House in November, argued that thousands of fourth graders come to the Statehouse every year to learn about their government. They said guns don’t belong in the Statehouse, which is serving as a classroom.
"The thought that some representative with a weapon would return fire to the gallery where we have fourth graders frightens me," said state Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton.
Statehouse security will provide lawmakers with an area to lock up their guns while in the chamber.
But state Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, objected to the ban and said he would ignore it. House rules forbid security from searching lawmakers.
"If we become a gun free zone, we are telling every nut in the state we are a gun free zone," he said. "I will not be a victim in this House, and I want all the crazy nuts out there in this state to understand that."
Burt’s amendment to allow representatives to carry guns in the chamber if they had a permit failed 156-209.
State Rep. Frederick Rice, R-Hampton, said dangerous people could shoot lawmakers from the gallery.
"The blood of those people will be on the hands of every single person who votes to eliminate guns from this chamber," he said.
The House also defeated an attempt to require armed security to be present in the gallery and on the floor when the House was in session.
A House rule banning weapons in the chamber had been in place for 40 years before Republicans repealed it in 2011 and 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. 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.
Also Wednesday, the House voted to eliminate two committees Republicans created. One was to hear public grievances. The other reviewed the constitutionality of bills.
Republicans argued the Legislature is constitutionally bound to hear the grievances, but Richardson said any representative can file legislation to address them. He said many of the grievances filed over the past two years were from people who wanted the Legislature to change the judicial outcome of their divorces.
The House and Senate also approved an emergency bill to address a problem with a tax cap adopted by the Newfound Area School District.