State House Memo: Senate should kill this dangerous gun bill

Last modified: 5/23/2013 10:15:24 AM
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.)


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