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April 15. 2013 5:37PM

Gun rights: And rhetorical wrongs

Once again, Republicans, conservatives and libertarians in New Hampshire find themselves embarrassed, their dignity collectively sullied by the shrill cries of despotism pouring forth with great volume from the mouths of the ignorant, who claim to speak for them.

On Saturday, many well-intentioned activists rallied at the State House in Concord to defend 2nd Amendment rights that were not threatened. They were led, as usual, by legislators and activists who spoke with certitude about imagined dangers, as though the demons of their fitful dreams were swooping down on leathery wings, talons shining in the cold light, and snatching away our freedoms before our very eyes,

The usual suspects were there, tilting their lances at the State House. There was Jack Kimball, Tea Party leader turned state Republican Party chairman, turned ousted former Republican Party chairman. There were Reps. Dan Itse and John Hikel, two legislators whose admirable love of liberty is energized with such zeal that they sometimes labor with great difficulty to discern real threats from the benign laws necessary to the functioning of any civil society.

The catalyst for their anger was the House's March 27 passage of House Bill 135. The bill, if it becomes law, would repeal the state's new "stand your ground law," approved in the last legislative session. In its place, HB 135 would return New Hampshire to the law that had existed for decades: deadly force is not justified if a person "knows that he or she and the third person can, with complete safety ... retreat from the encounter," with an exception made for one's own property.

We have supported "stand your ground" and opposed returning to the old law. Yet this is a policy matter, not a constitutional one, as any clear-headed person can see. The old law never forbade anyone from keeping or bearing arms. It did not even forbid the use of firearms in self-defense in public. But to Hikel, voting to restore it represented a "breach of oath of office" and a "conspiracy against rights." He has petitioned the Legislature to expel all 189 representatives who voted for HB 135.

"You have a duty to know your constitutions," Itse said on Saturday. That is true, and it applies no less to Itse, Hikel and Kimball, who misunderstand the 2nd Amendment.

If the law to which HB 135 would restore us were unconstitutional, as these three claim, then so too would be this similar legal framework: "No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms within his own lands or tenements." That language plainly and intentionally allowed the state to restrict the use of firearms in public. It was written by Thomas Jefferson, who proposed it for Virginia's constitution, which he drafted.

The rantings of Hikel, Itse and Kimball on this subject should not be taken seriously. To be sure that they are not, the more responsible leaders on the right need to declare their disagreement as forcefully as those who would replace them declare these erroneous ideas to be true.


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