Packing heat in the Statehouse

Illustration by Marc Sutherland

There's certainly been no shortage of controversial legislation that has graced the Statehouse floor over the years.

But throw guns into the mix, and you have a real aisle split.

Just take a look at the progression here.

Since 1971 weapons had been barred from the Statehouse chambers.

In 1996 a Statehouse weapons ban was put into place by a Republican majority. This ban included the Legislative Office Building across the street from the Statehouse.

In 2006 another Republican majority repealed that ban.

In 2009 when Teri Norelli was speaker, an incident occurred in the House gallery that the Democratic controlled legislature saw as cause for rethinking the open-carry law.

"It was after the vote count came up - there was a very loud outburst from the balcony; I recall turning around, seeing people standing up, waving their arms and being very loud, very disorderly. It was not a proper display from the gallery. You could see weapons from where I was sitting."

That's Michael Farley, a former Democratic State Rep. from Manchester who served two terms from 2006 to 2010.

The legislation that caused such a stir was a House Concurrent Resolution, HCR 6, which would have reaffirmed the state's freedom from interference from the federal government. It had failed.

Norelli remembers HCR 6 as being a "very heated" debate.

"There were a number of people open carrying in the gallery and there were a number of members who came to me concerned because they were sitting on the House floor and there were people up in the gallery with guns and you have a heated debate going on, and they felt very uncomfortable," Norelli says. "So we reinstated the policy that disallowed weapons in the Statehouse."

Protective Services provided safe storage for weapons if people brought them into the Statehouse.
Fast-forward to today and the ban is no longer, having been repealed in 2011 under Speaker O'Brien and his Republican-controlled legislature.

Norelli says after the ban was repealed, Facilities Committee members went around to all the signs in the Statehouse that show icons for "no food," "no drinks" and "no guns" and cut out the gun icon.

Most recently, freshman legislator Kyle Tasker dropped a loaded gun on the floor during a Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee hearing earlier this year. He claimed it happened because he was "loopy" from getting his blood drawn. Tasker typically carries two guns in double holsters around the Statehouse and has been spotted showing them off to other legislators in the anteroom.

Shooting Irony

In Republican House Speaker Marshall Cobleigh's 2005 memoir, "We Ain't Making Sausage Here," he explains how his tactic of punishing those who didn't vote for him as Speaker nearly cost him his life.

"The person most upset at me for the tactic of rewarding my friends and remembering my enemies was a World War I veteran who was a heavy drinker. He had a prized aisle seat in the New Hampshire Legislature. I took his back-row aisle seat away from him because he had opposed my Speaker candidacy. The man showed up in the legislature with a gun one day - a pistol. Minority Leader Bill Craig came down to the podium and said, 'I don't want to alarm you, Marshall, but Cap Gay's in the back of the hall with a pistol. He says he's going to shoot you.'"

Cobleigh goes on to say that after frantically searching the rulebook and consulting with the Attorney General and Governor's office, it was determined there was no rule against carrying weapons in the Statehouse.

"We tried to pass a rule banning guns from the floor of the House, but the gun advocates got their backs up. We ended up with a new rule that you cannot carry guns on the floor of the House, but no one can search you."

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