By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Rep. David Welch took to the podium at Thursday’s House session to address the controversy stirred when he and some others on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee wore a string of pearls during a public hearing on the “red flag” gun bill on March 5.
Welch, R-Kingston, said he wore the pearls to support the Women’s Defense League, which he described as a group of pro-gun women who train other women to defend themselves with firearms.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debra Altschiller, posted on Twitter that Welch was saying “sorry not sorry” for wearing the pearls at the hearing.
Also on Thursday, Altschiller, D-Stratham, posted Welch’s photo on Twitter as he spoke to the full House at the end of the day.
Welch said after the hearing, he was inundated with the most “outrageous and obscene” phone and email messages, some of which threatened his life amidst four-letter words, Welch said.
“Newspapers from all over the world had the story from supporters of the bill who claimed that I was mocking the women – some of whom were telling personal stories of family members who had committed suicide. Believe me when I tell you my heart goes out to those folks,” Welch said.
“The grief they must feel,” Welch said, his voice breaking up. “I’m familiar with.”
Some accounts suggested he should apologize, he said.
“For those few women who spoke at the hearing and were disturbed by my show of support for women who choose to defend themselves with firearms rather than seek to disarm the populace, I do apologize.
“But for the vast majority of women who with their filthy language called me every name in the book and those reporters who did not take the time to ascertain the facts before condemning myself and my colleagues, I will not apologize and I will continue to support all citizens who act responsibly whether or not I agree with them,” Welch said.
Altschiller said at the March 5 hearing the bill would have allowed police and family to petition for temporary “extreme risk protection order” to remove access to firearms if the person in crisis is a danger to himself, herself or others. The committee voted Wednesday to retain the bill.
Altschiller posted a photo of Welch on Thursday at the podium on Twitter with the words: “Rep Welch takes to the Well to say “sorry not sorry” for wearing pearls to the Criminal Justice Committee hearing on #HB687 #ERPO @shannonrwatts @MomsDemand @Everytown @ProgressNH . #NHPolitics – at Floor Of NH House of Representatives
At the March 5 hearing, supporters argued red flag laws have worked in the 14 states that approved them including Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
They said the law prevents suicide by gun and has helped prevent several mass killings.
At the hearing, Altschiller said: “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those 10 to 34 years old in New Hampshire and half of those were with firearms.”
She said between 2011 and 2017, there were 1,200 suicides in New Hampshire, and over 550 were committed with guns.
The controversy went international after Shannon Watts of Colorado, founder of the group Moms Demand Action for Guns Sense, tweeted from the State House showing photos of the men wearing the pearls.
Watts tweeted: “Of the 13 person ERPO hearing committee, 10 of the lawmakers are men; half of them are wearing pearls to mock @MomsDemand volunteers. Meanwhile, their constituents are in tears as they testify about gun suicides and domestic gun violence in their families. #NHPolitics”
Welch said the bill had many constitutional problems, but he wasn’t speaking to that on Thursday.
“As early as 2017, I wore the same string of pearls at the signing of our Constitutional carry bill. There was no outcry then,” Welch said.