N.H. House Votes to End ‘Stand Your Ground’

Concord — The Democratic-led House voted narrowly yesterday to repeal New Hampshire’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, which was enacted two years ago.

The 189-184 vote came after an hour and 45 minutes of hotly contested debate, and fell largely along party lines. Three Republicans and 186 Democrats voted for the bill, while 17 Democrats and 167 Republicans voted against it.

It now goes to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 13-11 majority.

Rep. Philip Ginsburg, a Durham Democrat, said yesterday that opponents were making too much of the legislation. He said the bill does not take away the right of self-defense, nor does it restrict gun rights.

Instead, he said, it’s an attempt to avoid situations where an armed person, in a public place, can “react without concern, aggressively, without consideration, without hesitation” to a perceived threat.

“This is a very small modification to a very large and complicated law. It is likely it will have very little effect on a very small number of people,” Ginsburg said.

But a succession of Republican speakers said the bill places people, and especially women, at risk by restricting their ability to respond to criminals and other threats.

“As a mother, it is my responsibility to protect my children from all harm, no matter what,” said Rep. Lenette Peterson, a Merrimack Republican. “Running from a would-be attacker would separate me from my children. What mother would knowingly separate herself from her children in a dangerous situation? If I have to take a few seconds to think about the escape, it’s too late: My kids and I are already vulnerable.”

In 2011, the Legislature expanded a state law allowing the use of deadly force in self-defense. Previously, people were obligated to withdraw from a situation if they could do so safely, unless they were in or around their home.

The stand your ground law removes that obligation to retreat, so long as the person was somewhere they were legally allowed to be. Then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill, but Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate overrode his veto.

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

Last year, Democrats gained seats in the Senate and retook control of the House. House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, introduced a bill that would repeal the stand your ground law, returning to the so-called “castle doctrine” that had been on the books until 2011.

It’s become one of the year’s most controversial pieces of legislation. Hundreds turned out in January for a public hearing, and last month the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee endorsed the repeal bill on a 12-6 vote.

The House yesterday adopted an amendment from the committee, stripping out two ancillary parts of Shurtleff’s bill, one dealing with civil liability and another dealing with the display of a deadly weapon.

It rejected two amendments offered by Rep. Dan Itse, a Fremont Republican, that would have made the state liable for loss of income, court costs and attorneys’ fees resulting from cases involving the repealed law.

Those three votes weren’t especially close: 217-115, 254-103 and 213-146, respectively.

The Senate will next act on the bill, and the issue likely won’t go away anytime soon. Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, said yesterday that opponents of the bill could benefit in the next election.

“Gun groups will not forget this in 2014. ... It will help us then,” Baldasaro said.