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Your Turn, NH: Who would really benefit from repeal of stand-your-ground?

February 03. 2013 4:56PM

The stand-your-ground law was passed in New Hampshire in 2011 and then passed again over the veto of Gov. John Lynch to become law that November. Stand-your-ground allows you as a citizen the right to self-defense anywhere you have the right to be without having to turn your back on someone intending to do you harm.

At the time, Gov. Lynch expressed concerns that drug dealers would murder each other and the police would be unable to prosecute them under the law. Others with more of a flair for the dramatic cried there would be blood in the streets. Those concerns have proved to be unfounded over the past year and a half as the people of New Hampshire have quietly gone about their business, avoiding trouble whenever possible, with many knowing that they are much less likely to become a victim of violent crime.

Senior citizens, women and others the violent criminal sees through his predator eyes as weaker and defenseless are no longer forced to endure beating, robbery and worse. They now have the right to use deadly force in self-defense.

That right is now under attack in New Hampshire because of a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Shurtleff, Democrat from Penacook. Rep Shurtleff's reason for repeal is "because something tragic might happen."

More scare tactics with little substance. Further, opponents of the stand-your-ground law have said you would not be able to sue if you were shot as an innocent bystander. But negligent discharge of a weapon is still a crime, and if you cause harm to an innocent bystander you can and likely will go to prison.

On the civil side, the courts interpret the law, so claims of exemption are nothing more than a gross exaggeration. So what is really behind the attempted repeal of stand-your-ground? As with most things political, follow the money.

Who will benefit from the repeal? With stand-your-ground, there are two protections afforded to the law-abiding citizen: the right of self-defense wherever you have the right to be, and freedom from civil suit if you are forced to defend yourself against a threat to your life.

If this law is reversed and you are confronted by a criminal while out of your home with no way for you to flee and are forced to use deadly force to save your own life, then you will first have to be judged by the police and prosecuting attorneys as to your justification. You will need an attorney to guide you through the process. It is likely a grand jury will be summoned.

Because you had no alternative but to defend yourself, then you will probably not be further criminally prosecuted. However, your real trial is just beginning as you are certain to be sued civilly by the criminal or the relatives of the criminal. The absolute best result you can expect is attorney's fees running into six figures. The worst result from the entire process is incarceration with total financial ruin and bankruptcy. Follow the money.

What the repeal bill does is throw New Hampshire citizens under the bus to the benefit of the trial lawyers. Indirectly some of the money it cost you because you were forced to defend yourself works its way back in the form of campaign contributions to those who took away your right of self-defense. Leave stand-your-ground alone and the people of New Hampshire will go about their business and walk the streets as citizens, not as potential victims.

Terry R. Phair is a retired financial manager in Greenland.

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