'Stand Your Ground' Supporters Pack Statehouse Committee Hearing
Opponents advocate rescinding deadly force, "kill at will" provisions.
Supporters of the New Hampshire's “stand your ground” gun provisions turned out in force at a public safety committee hearing on Jan. 22, that is considering a bill that would rescind changes to the law approved in the last legislative session.
The hearing, originally scheduled for the Legislative Office Building, was moved at the last minute to Representatives Hall due to the heavy turnout of gun owners, at the urging of state Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, at a rally last weekend.
Supporters of changing the law said they felt it was dangerous and would lead to situations like the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Opponents of the bill said that New Hampshire Constitution allowed citizens to not only have weapons but also to use them in defense of themselves.
State Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, proposed three changes that add back text that allows accidental victims of the “stand your ground” provisions to sue people who are acting in self-defense, criminal charges for brandishing a firearm in a menacing or threatening manner, and a requirement to retreat a situation before using deadly force. He said there was “a lot of disinformation and misinformation about the bill” and said in all the years the previous legislation was in place, there were never any problems. Shurtleff said changing the law back would allow the Legislature to give citizens the chance to act proactively instead of reactively.
“I don’t want to see us have an incident when someone is inadvertently killed when confronted by someone,” Shurtleff said, noting that there were studies showing that states with “stand your ground” provisions showed increased rates of murder and non-negligent homicide. “Instead of acting defensively, the tendency is to active in an offensive manner.”
State Rep. David Murotake, R-Nashua, was one of many who stood against the law saying the state’s constitution, specifically Article 2A, allowed citizens the natural right to defend themselves and use deadly force. He said the changes implemented two years ago protected people from lawsuits for acting in a constitutional manner.
“House Bill 135 seeks to undo the corrections and restore the deficiencies of the Castle Doctrine,” he said.
A representative from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, Ann Rice, rose in favor of the bill, noting that it had nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment and was not a gun bill. She said the previous bill was a “fair, balanced approach” to the self-defense issue. Rice added that “stand your ground” created “significant problems, especially in terms of public safety.”
State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, said she and other women were “very concerned” about their own public safety and this bill told women that they couldn’t defend themselves from danger. She added, that the bill seemed to deny the basic human right of people to defend themselves.
“If I’m in a parking lot or stranded on a rural road somewhere in New Hampshire, I shouldn’t have the legal obligation to retreat,” she said. “I have seconds to decide whether or not to use deadly force to defend myself. I should not have to think twice about whether or not my attacker has more rights than I do.”
Former state Sen. Burt Cohen, D-Portsmouth, though disagreed, saying protection inside a home was one thing, since it’s “not movable ... it's quite stationary.” But on the street and public ways, people had the opportunity to escape a criminal situation.
“What are you defending with the use of a gun?” he asked. “In those situations, belligerence is the least productive and is certainly, the worst option available.”
State Rep. Fred Rice, R-Hampton, countered Cohen’s arguments by saying that some people, like his wife, could not easily run from a dangerous situation on a street. He challenged the notion that a right was not a right just because someone was outside.
“At what point does their right become not worth saving?,” he asked. “Is it in your doorway? Front steps? Your yard? Your neighbor’s yard? Is it not worth it to save my own life?”
Chris Casko, a New Hampshire Department of Safety employee and a former Concord School Board member, came out against the bill, saying it didn’t take away someone’s rights, it was limiting when the use of deadly force out in the public. He called it, “legally appropriate,” especially when there were opportunities to retreat to safety. When questioned later whether or not there were issues with the law since it was changed, Casko said he was not aware of any abuses of the law at this point.
Lindsay Dearborn of the New Hampshire Public Health Association also stood in support of the bill adding that her organization was working on comprehensive public health approaches to gun violence. She believed that the bill would reduce the risk of preventable injury and death.
However, Baldasaro said “stand your ground” legislation kept New Hampshire from being “a killing zone” and pointed to a situation in Somerville, Mass., in 2006 at a family member’s restaurant where a gunman shot up the establishment but he was unarmed and couldn’t protect himself or the restaurant’s patrons. He said it took the police 10 minutes to get to the establishment after the shooting was done and the alleged perp gone.
Zandra Rice Hawkins, the executive director of Granite State Progress, spoke in favor of the bill calling the previous changes to the law “ill-advised.” She called it “a kill at will bill” pushed by “an outside interest group” – American Legislative Exchange Council – that “solves nothing and creates more headaches for law enforcement agencies.”
According to the committee chairwoman, state Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, there were more than 70 people that testified, with most opposing the bill.