On their first day in session, New Hampshire House Democrats voted in lockstep to ban members from bringing “deadly weapons”–aka “firearms”– into the House chamber, overturning a pro-gun policy passed by a GOP majority four years ago. While pro-2A protesters filled the gallery and Republicans like Rep. Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry) gave fiery speeches from the floor, Democrats said little, often declining to even answer questions. Instead, they let their votes do the talking.
Democrats voted 220 to 163 for the gun ban, with the support of virtually every Democrat in attendance. (The House has a 233/167 split.) An earlier motion to table the rule change failed by a nearly-identical margin, 221-164, with just three Democrats (Jeff Goley, Mark King and Peter Leishman) voting with the GOP to set the measure aside.
“This body has committed a grievous error that violates the constitutional rights of members of this historic body,” House Minority Leader Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack) said from the floor.
“This is simply a matter of public safety,” House Majority Leader Doug Ley (D-Jaffrey) said in a statement after the vote. “Allowing lawmakers and members of the public to bring their guns to the State House clearing increases the potential for an avertable tragic event. The amendment passed today restores common sense to our practices in the legislature.”
Perhaps more telling was this tweet from NH Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley several hours before the vote was even taken:
The outcome of the vote was hardly a surprise, but Buckley’s confidence is worth noting. Holding virtually the entire caucus on an issue like gun rights–which are relatively popular in some of the traditionally-GOP seats Democrats picked up in November’s blue wave–is a sign of party unity that should concern the NHGOP. Particularly given their own failure to unify behind several of Gov. Chris Sununu’s key issues when they had the majority last year, like fighting internet sales taxes and vetoing subsidies to biomass.
“But remember, Republicans were united today, too,” Stephen Stepanek told NHJournal after the vote. “We stuck together as a block, something we’ve got to continue to do in 2019.” Stepanek, who is the front-runner to become the next chairman of the NHGOP, acknowledges that Republicans didn’t come through for Gov. Sununu and their own party last year.
“But I believe Republican legislators will stick together this session,” Stepanek said. “They have to. We need to stay together so voters can see the differences between Republicans and Democrats, so they can see that Democrats are chipping away at our basic rights, like the right to keep and bear arms.” Stepanek, a former House member himselfe, said that if elected chairman, he would use his position to promote party unity among the notoriously unruly members of the House GOP.
“If Republicans stick together, the Democrats will give us issues to run on –and win back the legislature with–in 2020,” Stepanek said. “Democrats are going to do stupid things. They can’t help themselves.”
But is keeping legislators from carrying guns on the House floor really one of those “stupid things?” Do New Hampshire voters, who tell pollsters they support gun control measures like banning so-called “assault weapons” and limiting the size of gun magazines, really care about the right to legislate while armed?
“Anyone who says ‘I’m pro-Second-Amendment, but…’ isn’t really pro-2A,” a protester named Scott told NHJournal outside the House chamber. He declined to give his last name, was wearing a handgun on his belt a waved a sign reading “Ban Idiots, Not Guns.”
According to Joe Sweeney, spokesperson for the NHGOP, the party highlighted Wednesday’s vote to alert gun-rights advocates about the Democrats’ larger anti-gun agenda for the coming session.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he told NHJournal. “If you have members who will vote to take away rights from their fellow members of the House, who else will they vote to take away rights from? Today is mobilizing our people to be ready to fight in a month or so when more anti-gun bills come out.”
“This is the first day of a long two years,” Sweeney said.