CONCORD, N.H. -- The House voted Wednesday to ban weapons from Representatives Hall, its anteroom and gallery, though numerous lawmakers warned they do not want to be sitting ducks in a "gun-free killing zone."
The 196-153 vote reinstates a policy in place for 40 years -- until two years ago, when the first action of the newly elected House under former House speaker Bill O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, was to lift the ban on carrying firearms, although they could not be displayed.
During Wednesday's three-hour debate on the House rule to prohibit weapons, O'Brien slammed new House Speaker Terie Norelli, calling the ban "radical gun control" and said it shows Democrats failed to live up to their promise to focus on jobs and the economy.
Supporters of the gun prohibition said the radical change occurred two years ago when the Legislature overturned a ban that had been in place under both Republican and Democratic administrations without controversy.
By substantial margins, the House beat back attempts to change the rule to allow representatives with concealed weapons permits to continue to carry firearms and to have two armed guards present during House sessions.
Opponents of the ban said the change would make the House less safe and would violate members' constitutional rights to protect themselves, while the ban could alert those who wish to do harm to representatives.
Rep. Frederick Rice, R-Hampton, said members voting for the bans "will have blood on their hands" if the unthinkable happens and a gunman targets lawmakers.
Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, chastised those favoring the ban, saying without a weapon she will feel intimidated walking to her car in the Storrs Street parking lot.
"I carry a concealed firearm," Notter said. "No one has to know. It stays hidden but is within reach if some nut job tries to harm me."
Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, said he was intimidated when the House debated highly controversial issues, knowing there could be armed people in the gallery.
The new policy would simply impose limits similar to those in court houses and other places, he said.
House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, told of his career in law enforcement, noting he carried a firearm every day.
"I support the rights of sportsmen," Shurtleff said. "I support the Second Amendment and I support the rule change."
But opponents said recent massacres have occurred in gun-free zones -- not in areas where citizens are armed.
Several representatives noted someone with evil intent could easily shoot through windows or open doors to Representatives Hall and create carnage before any armed guards could respond.
Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, failed to convince lawmakers to allow House members with concealed weapons to continue to carry firearms on the House floor.
"If this does not pass and rule 63 (the ban) takes place and we become a gun-free zone," Burt said. "I have one thing to say: I will not be a victim in this House, and I want all the crazy nuts out there in this state to understand that."
Another representative said the rule change would disarm House members and law-abiding citizens, and not make the State House any safer.
"By removing hand guns from the State House you are creating a target-rich environment," said Rep. Lanette Peterson, R-Merrimack. "I feel safer at night with my finger on the trigger of my gun than my hand on my keys."
The Senate does not have a similar rule and a joint committee controls other common areas of the State House and Legislative Office Building.
The joint committee has yet to receive a request from the House to discuss prohibiting weapons in the rest of the State House complex.
Copyright 2013 - The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
McClatchy-Tribune News Service