CONCORD — When the House of Representatives voted on Jan. 2 to ban firearms in the House chamber, several Republican reps said they would continue to carry concealed weapons anyway, and on Monday they put it in writing.
“We’ll stand our ground,” eight representatives wrote in a letter sent to newspapers including the New Hampshire Union Leader, which will publish the letter in full in Thursday’s NH Voices.
The letter is signed by representatives Jess Edwards of Auburn, Alicia Lekas of Hudson, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, Greg Hill of Northfield, Howard Pearl of Loudon, Mark Warden of Manchester, Chris True of Sandown and Jeanine Notter of Merrimack.
“Contrary to popular belief, the New Hampshire House will NOT be a gun-free zone,” their letter states. “Any violent extremist who thinks that we’ve become a soft target needs to reassess the situation … Due to our willingness to exercise our constitutional rights and because any attempt to disarm House members is foolish public policy, we reserve the right to refuse to comply.”
The letter cites recent violent attacks against politicians nationally, and the personal experiences of lawmakers who have received threats or have been assaulted.
“There are sound arguments that the House makes its own rules on proceedings but does not have the authority to strip representatives of their rights,” the letter states. “NH courts are unlikely to enter the fray given we are a separate and co-equal branch of government. The only likely recourse is our own action.”
The Republican lawmakers also cite the works of Henry David Thoreau in calling for justified civil disobedience, stating, “We are morally obligated to resist.”
Republican Rep. John Burt of Goffstown said on the floor of the House he would ignore the ban, as he had in the past.
“As in 2013 and 2014 when (Democratic Speaker Terie) Norelli passed the same rule, I still will carry as I have and always will,” Burt said.
Burt, Baldasaro and Lekas were all present for a Tuesday meeting of the Joint House and Senate Committee on Facilities, expecting the committee might take up a motion to extend the ban beyond the House chambers to the entire State House complex.
That didn’t happen, according to Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, a member of the committee. “There was no appetite to do it,” he said.
After the meeting, Baldasaro and Lekas pointed out that the letter does not say they plan to carry weapons in the House chamber.
“That letter talks about deadly weapons in the State House,” Baldasaro said. “It didn’t specifically say we would carry in the chamber. I can neither confirm nor deny if I would. That’s nobody’s business.”
Lekas said the point of the letter is to keep potential bad actors guessing.
“That’s the whole point of concealed carry,” Lekas said. “If we never say who is carrying and who isn’t, then the criminals don’t know who they can attack and who they can’t attack. So you never answer that question.”
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said he doesn’t expect the issue to cause any problems.
“I know the individuals involved, including some in Republican leadership, and I find it hard to believe that people who pass laws in this building for the citizens of New Hampshire to follow would turn around and say we are only going to support and obey the rules we like,” he said.
Baldasaro pointed out that lawmakers cannot be frisked as they enter the building, and there is no plan to install metal detectors.
But there are ways for House leadership to enforce the rule, according to Shurtleff.
“As we know in the past, the fact that someone has a gun has been evident. We’ve had a couple of cases of people dropping weapons, or caught with the weapon being in full display,” he said.
“So if it came to the attention of the body, we have mechanisms for expelling or asking the person to leave the chamber, or coming into compliance by locking up the weapon; and it can go up from there, but I really don’t think it will.”
The chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Robert Lynn, declined to speculate which side is on stronger ground when it comes to the state constitution.
Part 1, Article 2a of the New Hampshire Constitution provides that “all persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the state.”
“Just the possibility that something could come to the court means I really can’t comment on it,” Lynn said.