By Doug Ireland
---- — Some New Hampshire lawmakers see it as much-needed change following a deadly attack on a Connecticut school, while others view it as an assault on citizen rights.
But one thing is clear — there are sure to be many strong words fired back and forth when legislators gather in January to consider reinstatement of a weapons ban at the Statehouse.
The move comes only two years after Republicans successfully repealed a previous restriction.
The House of Representatives will meet Jan. 2 to consider the ban, recommended in a 6-4 vote along party lines Thursday by the House Rules Committee. Democrats generally support the rule change while many — if not most — Republicans are opposed.
Some say the ban is being pushed through as a direct result of the recent fatal shootings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Other lawmakers say the move was inevitable once Democrats seized control of the Republican-dominated House in November.
Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, said he believes in the constitutional right to bear arms and had no problem with the repeal backed by former House Speaker William O’Brien two years ago.
“I’ve always been a proponent of the Second Amendment,” he said, “but with what happened in Connecticut, I think it should be revisited.”
Azarian said the state and federal governments need to review and tighten gun control laws to improve public protection, including more extensive background checks to keep weapons out of the wrong hands.
Sen Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, supports the proposed ban, saying the previous restriction should never had been lifted.
“I think they are doing the right thing,” he said.
D’Allesandro said in his three decades in the Legislature, there’s never been a need to allow lawmakers or the public to carry weapons at the Statehouse.
“We never had a situation like we had in the last two years,” he said, referring to the changes ushered in by O’Brien.
“There was no need for a change,” he said. “Everything was running smoothly.”
Another supporter is newly elected Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry.
“I don’t see how the presence of weapons on the House floor is going to help us work through differences respectfully,” she said.
But other lawmakers, especially Republicans, believe the ban spearheaded by Democrats is politically motivated, and a threat to safety and constitutional rights.
“I think it’s feel-good legislation and an attack on Second Amendment rights,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. “I think (Democrats) should be worrying about jobs and the economy.”
Baldasaro, a retired Marine sergeant, said lawmakers have a right to protect themselves while at the Statehouse. Current law allows for weapons to be carried, but only if they are concealed.
Baldasaro and Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, expressed concern for lawmakers’ personal safety, especially while leaving the Statehouse at night to walk to a nearby parking garage.
There also is limited security at the Statehouse, where Baldasaro said only a couple of state troopers are allowed to carry guns.
“There are no metal detectors or anything,” he said. “It is an accident waiting to happen.”
Not even the sergeant-at-arms is armed, Weyler said.
“It doesn’t allow the sergeant-at-arms to defend us,” he said. “I am not in favor of having a gun ban.”
Weyler, who doesn’t carry a gun, said he’s felt threatened in the past few years when confronted by angry union members at the Statehouse.
“I would be happy to have a bunch of my colleagues come and defend me,” he said.