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House panel endorses repeal of N.H.’s 2011 ‘stand your ground’ law

Last modified: 3/6/2013 9:57:37 AM
Legislation to repeal New Hampshire’s “stand your ground” self-defense law was endorsed yesterday by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The committee voted, 12-6, to recommend the full House pass an amended version of the bill introduced this year by Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat. Two Republicans, Rep. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton and Rep. Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester, joined 10 Democrats to support the bill, while all six “no” votes came from Republicans.

The repeal bill has aroused loud opposition from gun-rights activists and others, and hundreds turned out for a five-hour public hearing in January. But Fields said many of the messages he’s received are from out-of-staters.

“They don’t live here. They can do what they want in their state,” he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for New Hampshire.”

In 2011, the then-Republican-led Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to enact a law that expanded the right to use deadly force in self-defense to apply anywhere a person can legally be. Previously, people were obligated to “retreat from the encounter” if they knew they could do so with “complete safety,” except in their homes.

Similar stand your ground laws are on the books in at least 21 states, including New Hampshire, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It’s one of a number of laws passed during the last two years that are now being targeted for repeal by Democrats who retook a majority in the House in last November’s election. Republicans retain a 13-11 majority in the Senate.

The House committee yesterday did modify the bill introduced by Shurtleff. At Vaillancourt’s recommendation, the panel removed a section dealing with civil immunity and a second section that would have repealed language specifying that displaying a weapon is “non-deadly force,” not deadly force.

That amendment, Vaillancourt said, “strikes out two sections of the bill. So, all those who say I’m going against people with guns: I have accomplished two-thirds of what you all wanted to do.”

The core of the bill – limiting the legitimate use of deadly force without any need to retreat to someone who is in or around their home – remained intact.

Several Democratic representatives said yesterday that the bill has nothing to do with gun rights, and is a public safety measure that still allows people to defend themselves.

“There’s dismay when I look at states that have adopted stand your ground laws, and what I see this becoming is a license to shoot first and ask questions later,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat.

But Rep. Moe Villeneuve, a Bedford Republican, said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a right of self-defense.

“What we’re doing is substituting a law that’s unconstitutional for a law that is constitutional, the one that exists right now,” Villeneuve said.

And Rep. Kyle Tasker, a Nottingham Republican, said the Legislature shouldn’t be in the business of repealing laws until it sees how they work out.

“We shouldn’t be playing Ping-Pong with people’s rights every two years. . . . We’ve got to give it a little bit of time so we can have some results. We don’t have any results. We have anecdotes, we have other states telling us what they think,” Tasker said.

He added, “If one life is saved, that’s not good enough, if people’s rights mean anything.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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