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February 28. 2013 11:40AM

Panel backs 'stand your ground' repeal

CONCORD – A legislative panel is recommending repeal of New Hampshire's so-called "stand your ground" law, which allows use of deadly force to fend off attackers wherever they may be encountered.


By a 12-6 vote, mainly along party lines, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to recommend that the full House pass House Bill 135, which repeals a law adopted in the last legislative term.


"This is a very emotional issue, said Committee Chair Laura Pantelakos, who supported rolling back the law to where it stood prior to the last session. "This law stood for 34 years and the only thing that we're doing is reverting it back."


As it now stands , New Hampshire's stand your ground law allows the use of deadly force in defense against someone who the victim "reasonably believes" is about to use deadly force. It allows the use of deadly force to repel someone who uses "any unlawful force," while trying to commit burglary or any felony on a victim's home and surrounding property."


Republican representatives Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton voted with the Democratic majority to repeal the law.


Rep. Robbie Parsons, R-Milton, took exception with perceptions that efforts to repeal stand your ground are gun legislation.


"This is not a gun bill," Parsons said. "Everybody keeps referring about guns, guns, guns; this is not a gun bill."


Another supporter of repeal, Rep. Philip Ginsburg, D-Durham, said he considered it a simple matter to expect that instead of using deadly force, people would first "react to the natural human instinct to get away."


"If they can do that with complete safety, we expect that they will," he said.


Some committee members said they had been deluged with e-mails from people who want the stand your ground provision to remain in the law.


Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Nottingham, argued against repealing the bill because it is only a couple of years old, there is insufficient experience to warrant scrapping it.


He called on members of the committee to pay attention to what they are hearing from the public after members noted receiving volumes of e-mail opposing repeal.


"I'm flabbergasted that we are willing to just blank our constituents," Tasker said. "This bill doesn't have merit; our constituents told us that."


Before endorsing repeal of stand your ground, the committee voted to kill an effort to repeal two laws adopted in the last term relating to the use of force in self-defense.


One defined the act of producing or displaying a weapon as "non-deadly force." It was passed into law during a controversy over a man sentenced to prison time for brandishing a firearm in a confrontation with a woman he perceived as a threat.


The other part of the law that the committee voted to let stay on the books makes people who use deadly force to defend themselves immune from civil lawsuits.


Vailliancourt sponsored the amendment that took the "brandishing" and civil immunity provisions out of the repeal bill. He said it shows his support for repealing the stand your ground provision is not an attack on gun ownership.


"All those who say I am going against people with guns, I have accomplished two-thirds of what you all wanted to do," he said. "Let it be known that if not for this amendment, the entire bill would have passed."


Repeal of the stand your ground law now goes to the full House where Criminal Justice Committee members predicted it will be the subject of intense debate.


The committee also voted to recommend that the full House reject a bill that would prohibit carrying a gun openly in a public building.


It also rejected a proposal that would require that people who want to buy a gun get lessons on how to use them before the purchase.


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