Guns in the New Hampshire State House, Round Two – posted 12/21/2014 and published in the Concord Monitor on 12/26/2014
This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on December 26, 2014 under the title “Gun Crazy”.
On December 19, the Concord Monitor reported that a House Committee voted to allow legislators to carry concealed weapons on the House Floor. It looks very likely concealed carry will pass when the legislative session opens in January 2015.
The gun vote is a replay of 2010 when the Republican-controlled House voted to allow concealed carry in the House Chamber, cloakroom anteroom, and adjacent areas including the visitors’ gallery.
Concealed carry stayed in effect until the Democrats regained control of the House in the 2012 election. On the first day of the session in 2013, the House banned concealed carry.
With all due respect to our legislators, concealed carry in the State House is a very bad idea. The majority seems to confuse that idea with doing something. Being a legislator should not be about macho showboating and posturing about packing heat. How about focusing on doing something for constituents?
I do not think the dark side of legislators bringing guns to committee or session meetings has been adequately explained. Whatever gun proponents subjectively think, the presence of guns is objectively threatening. Armed legislators may feel they are proudly standing up for their Second Amendment rights but their guns, in this context, are intimidating. They have a bullying effect on those not carrying.
Some of my feelings about the bullying effect of guns comes from past life experience as an advocate for victims of domestic violence. In the world of abusers, there are some creepy ones who always have guns or knives on their person. It is a power and control thing. The abuser uses the weapons as a fear factor to intimidate the victim into submission. The weapons seem to have the effect of making the abuser feel more powerful relative to the victim. Guns and knives keep the victim in line. There is an unspoken message: obey or face the consequences which are typically physical and emotional abuse.
Whether intended or not, I do think legislators packing has the same bullying effect.There is a subconscious, my way-or-the-highway message.
The Legislature should be a place for calm deliberation. Legislators bring vastly differing policy agendas. It is no surprise that many legislators feel passionately about the rightness of their ideas. We know passions can run high during legislative debate.
I would argue that the presence of guns in this context is a net negative. Legislators should be equal and no one should have a leg up because of intimidation. The proponents are oblivious to the effect of their gun possession. Maybe they like the power of wielding weapons but they overlook the bully part.
Guns do carry an implied threat and menace. The House is not a shooting range. Neither is it the OK Corral. Guns do not contribute to an atmosphere of reasoned debate.
The proponents of concealed carry in the Legislature have argued guns are necessary for self-protection there. They have fantasized active shooter scenarios with armed legislators saving the day. They seem to be expecting a Wild West shoot-out.
I would point out that in the over 200 year history of the New Hampshire Legislature, there has never been a shooting incident. In the 40 year period prior to 2010, the House had rules banning deadly weapons in the State House. As noted, there were no incidents in this lengthy time period which spanned countless committee and session meetings.
While anything is possible, the legislators arguing the need for armed self-protection are, based on the evidence, paranoid. One can only speculate on the psychological reasons for the paranoia. Is it baseless suspicion, persecutory delusions or feelings of sexual inadequacy which produce these feelings about the need to be armed? Maybe the legislators have simply watched too many violent TV shows and they have conflated TV with real life.
As someone who has spent plenty of time in the area around the State House, it also needs to be reiterated that the area is not scary. The dark alleys of Concord are not very dark. Anyone who tries to paint the area as some kind of danger zone is out to lunch. That is a bad joke.
The presence of guns in the Legislature is much more likely to lead to an accidental shooting than anything else. Witness the 2012 accident when a state representative dropped his gun on the floor at the start of a meeting of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Fortunately, the gun did not discharge. That story made national news.The representative said he had given blood that morning and the blood donation made him loopy. That representative routinely wore two guns in shoulder holsters to legislative meetings.
So I guess I would ask: how about assault rifles and machine guns in the House? If the proponents believe there are no limits on the Second Amendment, do they want legislators to have the right to carry those weapons too?
It is a misconstruction of the Second Amendment to see it as an unlimited right not connected with any responsibility or civic duty. Nothing in the Second Amendment prevents reasonable regulation of that right. There is no legal problem with Legislatures banning deadly weapons in State Houses. In fact, very few state legislatures allow it.
I want to make it clear I too support the Second Amendment along with reasonable regulation. I accept that the US Supreme Court has made clear the individual right to carry arms and use them in self-defense. The right is also outlined in the New Hampshire Constitution. That said, as I make clear in this piece, I think a state can do some things in the interest of public safety.
We sensibly keep armed litigants out of courtrooms. The General Court is really no different than a courtroom. Legislators need a safe place to argue and disagree.
If legislators feel insecure or fearful, aren’t metal detectors at more restricted entrances a better way to go? We could have that. In addition we could beef up our state police presence at the State House. I expect our state troopers would be far more expert at handling any incident than legislators.
I would predict that bringing guns back to the State House will end in embarrassment for New Hampshire. I am not sure how exactly but we will likely end up as fodder for the Daily Show and a punch line for jokes.