CONCORD — The House Wednesday narrowly voted to repeal the controversial "stand your ground" law passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature last year over the veto of former Gov. John Lynch.
The 189-184 roll call sends the bill to the state Senate, where the GOP holds a 13-11 majority and its fate is uncertain. The House then voted against reconsidering the bill, 198-175.
The key vote was close, with 186 Democrats and three Republicans favoring repeal; 167 Republicans and 17 Democrats opposed repeal.
Current law allows for the use of deadly force if a victim "reasonably believes" deadly force is about to be used against him. Such force can be used wherever the victim encounters a perceived attacker.
In more than 90 minutes of debate, House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said repeal foes released "a big black cloud of misinformation and disinformation" about the bill.
He said it is a "lie" that one cannot use deadly force to protect himself in his home.
"This bill has nothing to do with the 'Castle Doctrine' and you still have the right to use force, including deadly force, to protect it," said Shurtleff.
"This bill is simply the (law) that was in effect in the State of New Hampshire from 1977 to 2011," he said. "If you're in a confrontation and you know with 100 percent certainty you can retreat, you should," Shurtleff said. "If you're not, you can use deadly force.
But Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, said that while the bill allows one to defend himself with deadly force in his home, but not unquestionably in public, "The vast majority of the attacks are in the public domain."
Rep. Debra DeSimone, R-Atkinson, said the repeal bill removes "my freedom to protect myself and my children on a public street and gives that freedom only to the perpetrator."
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said, "Our friends (the Democrats) take over the majority and the next thing you know we're under attack on our gun rights again. It's got to stop."
But Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, asked the House whether it is better to "shoot first and ask questions later, or live like civilized human beings?"
According to the majority of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which recommended that the repeal ought to pass on a 12-6 vote, the bill "affirms that a person is not justified in using deadly force on another if he or she can retreat from the encounter."
When the "stand your ground" law was approved last year over Lynch's veto, New Hampshire joined about two dozen states with such a law.
A similar law gained national attention in the Florida case of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and said he felt threatened by Martin.
At a public hearing in January, bill sponsor Shurtleff acknowledged New Hampshire has had no such cases during the year the law has been in place, but said he wants to be proactive.
House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, opposed the bill, saying it would impose unclear boundaries for a person who has to decide when it is legal to use deadly force or turn and run.
On Wednesday, the House killed an amendment, 245-103, that would have held the state liable for lost income for victims if they survive an attack or their families if they do not survive. Another failed amendment (213-146) would have held the state liable for attorneys fees and court costs of someone who is properly found to have stood his ground in defense of himself.
Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack, who described herself as a victim of a mugging, said that without a stand-your-ground law, "women have no way to defend themselves."
She called the bill a gateway to "open season on women in New Hampshire."
"I'm too old to run anymore and I shouldn't have to," said Rep. Jane Cormier, R-Alton.
"I'm a strong women and I am not a victim and I will not be a victim," Cormier said. "This bill empowers nobody but the criminals."
But Rep. Philip Ginsberg, D-Durham, said that if the repeal is passed, when attacked, "We can do one of two things," use deadly force "without consideration of whether retreat is possible" or consider "whether I can resolve this without deadly force and I am certain that I can do so.
"Do we want a society in which the first thought is to say that I will use my weapon to shoot this person or will I in that instant see if I am certain that I can retreat safely?" asked Ginsberg.
Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, said he opposed repeal "for the women in my life. I believe they should have all means of defense against their attackers and that should not be limited to inside a House."
On the street, he said, "Why should my first thought be, 'Can I run away from this jerk?'
"The only people this bill affects is law-abiding citizens," Rideout said, adding that it will be "a lawyer's dream."
But Vaillancourt, one of three Republicans to back repeal, said nothing in the bill prevented the brandishing of a weapon when one is attacked and repeal will not prevent a law-abiding citizen from using a gun in self-defense.
"This bill simply takes us back to the days when you could defend yourself if retreat is not possible," he said.
"Are we a safer society if we can shoot first and ask questions later, even on a crowded street?" asked Vaillancourt.
The three Republicans who voted in favor of repeal were Vaillancourt, Dennis Fields of Sanborton and David Kidder of New London.
The 17 Democrats who opposed repeal were Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, Thomas Buco of Conway, Rebecca Brown of Sugar Hill, Kenneth Gidge of Nashua, Ronald Boisvert of Manchester, Jeffrey Goley of Manchester, Michael Garcia of Nashua, Barbara Shaw of Manchester, Timothy Soucy of Nashua, Joel Winters of Nashua, Martin Jack of Nashua, Tim O'Flaherty of Manchester, Scott Burns of Franklin, Mary Frambach of Epsom, Lorrie Carey of Boscawen, Dick Patten of Concord and Linda Tanner of Georges Mills.
After the vote, Chandler said, "Retreat is not something responsible New Hampshire citizens should be forced to do when faced with a deadly threat. Our right to self defense and defense of other innocent victims should not be limited to the walls in which we reside. Claims that current law would result in increased violence are unfounded. Our citizens should not be asked to risk life and limb in retreat simply because there are a handful of thugs who might try and abuse this law. I'm deeply disappointed that the House would vote to restrict the rights of our people and give the benefit of doubt to violent attackers. It's simply unconscionable.
"How high does the cliff have to be to ensure a safe retreat?" Chandler asked. "Two feet? Four feet? Six feet? Do we really expect this decision to be made while under the threat of violence?"
Baldasaro, speaking for the conservative House Republican Alliance, said, "We are saddened but not surprised by the passage of HB135, which removes a person's right to defend oneself. The passage of this politically motivated bill strips away the rights of citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves, others and their property if threatened where ever they have a right to be."