By Doug Ireland
---- — There were plenty of verbal shots fired in Concord yesterday as the House of Representatives voted to reinstate a 40-year-old ban on weapons in the House chamber.
The 196-153 vote came after several hours of debate on what has become a contentious issue between Democrats and Republicans. The ban only applies to the House floor, anteroom and gallery, allowing lawmakers and the public to carry guns in other areas of the Statehouse complex.
Democrats supported the ban while Republicans were largely opposed, including many Southern New Hampshire lawmakers.
Reps. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, and Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, called it an attack on constitutional rights, but said it wasn’t a surprise after Democrats vowed to adopt a ban when they took control of the House in November.
The deadly attack Dec. 14 on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., spurred further discussion of a need to ban firearms at the Statehouse.
Some Democrats said the fatal shootings of 20 children and six adults by 20-year-old former Kingston resident Adam Lanza was reason enough to ban guns from public places, including the Statehouse.
Two years ago, Republicans reversed the ban in place at the Statehouse complex when they took control of the House. The vote yesterday came two weeks after the House Rules Committee recommended the ban in a 6-4 vote along party lines.
Sapareto and Baldasaro said the move jeopardizes public safety.
“You just announced to the rest of the world, ‘Come, here, we are open targets,’” Sapareto said.
“Because now, we can’t defend ourselves.”
Sapareto said the ban violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. He criticized Democratic first-time lawmakers who supported the ban.
The House debated the rule change and numerous amendments for much of the day before approving the ban late yesterday afternoon.
Baldasaro was among those who spoke against the proposal on the House floor, but had to leave before the final vote because of a family emergency.
“It was disappointing,” Baldasaro said of the vote. “It’s a feel-good rule that disarms the Legislature. It’s an attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Baldasaro has said the push for a ban was an overreaction to the Newtown shootings. Limited security on Statehouse grounds makes it necessary for lawmakers to arm themselves, he said.
Another opponent of the measure was Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow.
Major said he disagreed with the ban because it leaves lawmakers and the public vulnerable to attacks.
“I feel a lot safer by having someone there who has been trained to use a gun because in some cases, things can go haywire,” he said.
Local lawmakers who support the ban include Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry.
Till said earlier the presence of weapons on the House floor doesn’t help Democrats and Republicans work through their differences.