By Jason McLure
CONCORD, New Hampshire (Reuters) - A bill that would have required New Hampshire school districts to vote on whether to allow teachers and other employees to carry concealed firearms on school property was defeated in a rare setback for the gun lobby in the New England state.
Under the proposed law, individual districts would have been required to decide whether to allow school employees who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon to do so on campus.
The bill had been submitted in January, weeks after a gunman armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle attacked a grammar school in Newtown, Connecticut, a brazen assault that left 26 people dead, including 20 children ages 6 and 7.
In the wake of that incident, the head of the National Rifle Association lobby proposed putting armed guards in schools who would have the ability to fight off future attackers.
While New Hampshire, whose motto is "Live Free or Die," has some of the least restrictive gun laws of any state in the northeast, the suggestion of arming school staff ran into opposition. The bill was defeated on Wednesday by a voice vote.
"It was just a bad, bad bill," said Representative Steve Shurtleff, majority leader of the Democratic-controlled House, in a Thursday interview. "The idea of arming teachers, it takes care of the symptom but doesn't go to the cause of the problem itself."
Proponents of the measure argued that arming teachers and staff would help prevent future mass shootings.
"The one thing we know is gun-free zones don't make people safe," said Representative Daniel Itse, a Republican who sponsored the bill. "It's created a discussion. When you're changing the paradigm, these things seldom happen on the first time out. You've got to make your case. You've got to change minds."
The United States has seen an intense debate on guns in the wake of the Newtown shooting, with gun-control advocates arguing more restrictions are needed to promote public safety, and proponents of gun rights arguing that restrictions on legal gun ownership will not prevent criminal use.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution enshrines the right to bear arms.
South Dakota last week passed a similar law, which would have allowed its school districts to arm teachers, staff or recruit volunteers to stand as armed sentinels.
Other communities have taken more symbolic measures. The town of Byron, Maine, last week voted against a symbolic proposal that would have required every household in the small rural town to own a gun.
New Hampshire, which neighbors Maine, does not have a firearms registry or require a permit or license to own guns. Though it requires a permit to carry a concealed handgun, loaded guns are allowed to be carried openly in most public places without a license, including banks, bars and hospitals.
State law bans firearms in the courtroom and loaded rifles and shotguns from being carried in vehicles, while federal laws bar the public from carrying weapons within 1,000 feet of a school and federal buildings.
In 2011, New Hampshire's then-Republican-controlled legislature voted to allow carrying weapons in the state's legislative chambers, a measure that was repealed earlier this year by a new Democratic majority.
Democrats are also pushing a bill to repeal the state's 2011 "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows those who believe they are threatened by another to use deadly force to protect themselves—even if they could safely retreat from the situation.
(Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Johnston and Nick Zieminski)