CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire Democrats asserted their newly acquired power at the Statehouse on Wednesday by restoring a ban on guns and other deadly weapons on the House floor.
For the last decade, rules on allowing guns in Representatives Hall, including the anteroom and public gallery overlooking it, have flipped back and forth depending on which party held the majority. After four years in the minority, Democrats regained control of the House in November, and one of their first actions was to restore the rule Republicans had thrown out in 2015.
The 220-163 vote largely followed party lines, with only four Democrats voting against the ban. One Republican voted for it.
"This is an issue of gun safety and public safety," said Majority Leader Douglas Ley, Democrat, of Jaffrey. "We don't want to wait, as has been suggested, until there is a problem because if we do that, we are waiting until there is a tragedy."
Supporters of the ban called it common sense, given that children frequently visit the Statehouse. They cited two recent incidents as cause for concern: A House lawmaker dropped a loaded revolver onto the floor as she arrived late to a committee hearing in 2017, and another lawmaker dropped his handgun at a hearing in 2012. Neither weapon discharged. Neither is currently in the House.
Republican Rep. John Burt, of Goffstown, said banning guns was as absurd as banning women or minorities would be, and said the House doesn't have the authority to turn its chamber into "some kind of Constitution-free zone." After receiving five death threats in his four terms, Burt said he will continue exercising what he called his God-given right to carry a gun, despite the vote.
"I want to make sure every crazy nut out there that loves to go to these gun-free zones and do their killing understand one thing: I, Rep. John Burt of Goffstown, will not be a victim in my House, the people's house, because you guys have the majority," he said.
The first ban on weapons in the House was enacted in 1971. It was requested by a Republican House speaker after a fellow lawmaker threatened to shoot him, said Rep. Timothy Smith, Democrat, of Manchester.
"I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that if there is a threat of gun violence in this chamber, that threat does not come from a nut in the gallery," Smith said. He later apologized, saying he did not mean to suggest any of his colleagues were "nuts."
Several female lawmakers expressed concern about being unprotected if they leave their guns at home or having them stolen if they store them in their cars while at the Statehouse. Under the rule, Statehouse security officers would provide secure storage for weapons.
"Why are you choosing to leave me defenseless?" asked Rep. Kimberly Rice, a Republican, of Hudson. "Let's be honest. Violence against elected officials is on the increase, yet you chose to leave us defenseless."
About 50 opponents of the ban gathered outside the Statehouse in 20-degree-Fahrenheit (minus 7-degree Celsius) weather before the vote. One man wearing a tri-corner hat and a gun on each hip carried a sign that read, "Keep Calm and Carry," on one side. The other side said: "Ban Idiots, Not Guns."