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An error on display: Forgetting Ward Bird

January 12. 2013 11:40PM

A bill in the New Hampshire House of Representatives would categorize the mere display of a firearm as a criminal use of deadly force. Rather than make us safer, this change would endanger law-abiding Granite Staters.

Current law states that "the act of producing or displaying a weapon shall constitute non-deadly force." The law was changed to prevent more people from going to prison for defending themselves against perceived threats by simply showing that they are armed. The case that sparked the law was the famous story of Ward Bird, the Moultonborough farmer who was convicted in 2009 of criminal threatening for waving a handgun when a trespasser refused to leave his property.

Bird was convicted of waving a gun when a woman looking for another piece of land drove up his driveway, posted with "no trespassing" signs, and refused his commands to leave. He got three to six years in state prison for using "deadly force" when he waved his gun.

After a huge public outcry, the Executive Council commuted Bird's sentence and the Legislature changed the law to clarify that homeowners may defend themselves by showing that they are armed. Now Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, wants to revert to the old, bad law. That would be a serious mistake. Simply displaying a weapon is quite often a defensive act. It is commonly done nationwide to frighten criminals into fleeing. It works. And Shurtleff would make it a crime in most circumstances.

Crime, law and justice Politics Public Safety Social issues Editorial

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