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State House Memo: Senate should kill this dangerous gun bill

A bill before the New Hampshire Senate would enable citizens to leave loaded guns scattered about their unlocked house without fear of liability if the guns are taken and used in a murder or some other crime.

HB 388, only one sentence long, states: No person who stores or leaves on premises under that person’s control a loaded or unloaded firearm shall be held liable in a subsequent civil case for the criminal acts of another person who illegally obtains possession or control of such firearm and uses such firearm in the commission of a felony or a misdemeanor.

I serve on the House Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on this bill this winter. As the state is hesitant to grant immunity in any area, we questioned the necessity of the bill, and asked why gun owners should not properly secure and be responsible for their firearms. One of the bill’s sponsors testified that he had about 30 guns and that it was impossible to secure them all. I found myself thinking that maybe you have too many guns if you can’t keep them secured.

Failing to hear a strong case for this legislation, a bipartisan majority of the committee voted 12-6 recommending killing this overly broad bill. The way this bill was written, you could leave an arsenal of loaded firearms unattended on your open front porch and have civil immunity if those weapons were used in a deadly crime spree.

Unfortunately the full House, in one of the most hastily considered votes this session, overrode the committee recommendation and passed the bill onto the Senate. Representatives seemed to respond to the argument that a stolen gun is like a stolen car. You wouldn’t be held liable if your stolen car was used in a crime, why should a gun be any different?

But a moment’s reflection will show that a gun is not a car. Guns are designed to be lethal weapons, built to kill with one quick shot. The state should not encourage people to leave guns, especially loaded guns, unsecured around their premises. Not only could this lead to a stolen firearm being used in a crime, it could also result in suicides or accidental shootings.

The state expects gun owners to behave responsibly in regards to their weapons. New Hampshire law mandates that licensed gun sellers post the following warning in capital letters: “IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THE OWNER OF A FIREARM SEEK FIREARM SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS FROM A CERTIFIED FIREARMS INSTRUCTOR AND KEEP FIREARMS SECURED FROM UNAUTHORIZED USE.’’

There are over 30,000 gun deaths each year in the United States, as a result of murder, suicide and accidental shootings. New Hampshire should not help to increase that tragic number by extending immunity to gun owners and signaling that they are not responsible for their guns. Gun owners have a duty of care to keep their firearms secured from unauthorized use.

The Senate should support safe, responsible use of firearms and not pass this unnecessary and potentially dangerous bill.

(State Rep. Rick Watrous is a Democrat from Concord.)

Legacy Comments8

I have a gun for home and personal protection. I live in a very rural, semi-isolated area. Locking it away defeats the purpose of my gun ownership. I am a responsible adult, a lifetime liberal and a diehard Democrat. Am also a former member of the NRA. I am a responsible gun owner. I do not want to keep it locked away and there is no reason for me to do so. I support this senate bill. I understand your pov, Mr. Watrous, but I completely disagree with it. Dems need to stop trying to micro manage everyone's lives. I support an expansion of background checks and any reasonable efforts to reign in the horrible misuse of weapons in this country. But your efforts to manage my gun in my home is an overreach.

There is no micro managing. Under existing law you do not have to lock your gun away. You are free to leave your gun on your night stand or your porch. But if you left your gun on the porch—and if someone took it and used it in a crime—a victim of that crime could bring civil suit against you. The court would still have to be convinced that you acted irresponsibly in storing your firearm. This bill would remove the right of the person harmed in that crime to file a civil suit for damages.

If a person takes my gun unlawfully, then ONLY that person is fully responsible for whatever he or she does with it. Period. This is simple. I understand that a lot of people think the way you do on this isssue, but I disagree completely. Good luck.

The latest exemption from personal responsibility for people who own guns. Funny how the gun lobby reacted when a NY newspaper printed addresses of gun owners, saying it might incite people to break in and steal them. Rep. McGuire reveals in a public forum that he keeps an arsenal of 30+ weapons and can't have full control over them, possibly forgetting his home address is on the state's general court website. His bill deserves to be tanked and he deserves to be sued by any victim of a crime involving his irresponsibly stored guns.

a locked, empty gun is a useless tool. It is about as ignorant in spirit as saying, it's OK to keep a fire extinguisher in your home, but it must NOT contain any nitrogen to pressurize it, nor shall it contain any fire extinguishing agent, and you shall be kept under lock and key at all times.

Rep. Watrous, I believe your position is well-intentioned and might make some sense in an ideal world context. Representative-we do not live in an ideal world. In the world of New Hampshire citizens, violent crime is an issue they must deal with, they have no choice. It might be different if the police could prevent a violent attack, and I believe they would if they could, but almost without exception nobody but the criminal knows when the attack will occur. Home invasion/murders like the college professors and the tragedy of Mount Vernon might’ve been different if the homeowner had a weapon AND it was readily available. Looking at other emergency management tools; do you keep a lock on your fire extinguisher? You keep your first aid kit unpacked and in a safe? Do you keep number for the Poison Control Center someplace where no one can find it? This issue has some similarities with the ill-advised attempt to modify the stand your ground law. When queried legislators responded, “you can still defend yourself”. The reality is after you’ve had to face mortal danger from a violent criminal and had to defend yourself, you, your family, and every bit of economic resource you’ve ever had is in danger from a criminal who might allege “criminal threatening” and depending on the mood that day, a prosecutor, criminal justice and legal systems that are supposed to protect the law-abiding citizens. Why does the legislature want to put law-abiding citizens in double Jeopardy? Of course, we all want to be safe inside and outside of our homes. But attempts to criminalize law-abiding citizens for noncriminal activity is just partisan politics and ends up putting the rights of criminals before those of law-abiding citizens. Is this what you want? Why is it okay to render New Hampshire citizens defenseless in the face of violent crime and home invasion?

The existing firearms storage law—which this bill would amend—was passed by a Republican legislature and has been in place for years. It does not “criminalize law-abiding citizens for noncriminal activity” but promotes responsible storage of firearms. Everyone should agree that gun owners bear some responsibility for their guns and should exercise proper care. As the law is now, if Mr. Smith’s son is killed because Mr. Jones left a loaded gun on his window sill and someone took it and committed the murder, Mr. Smith can bring civil suit against Mr. Jones for irresponsible firearm storage. This bill would prevent such a civil suit by providing immunity for even such obviously careless storage of guns.

rw, So is it true that if your kid takes you car and has an accident- now - you want to totally responsible? What if your kid takes out the chain saw, with all best of intent, but another get hurt - you now want to be totally responsible? What if your wife gives a neighbor a couple advil and they have an allergic reaction - you now wan to the totally liable? Your comparisons also assume that anyone who owns a gun is irresponsible - isn't that like the left. They assume citizens working with anything THEY want to control - are inept - except when those same hardworking folks are a cash-cow for big gov't.

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