CONCORD — A proposal to bring a so-called “red flag law” to New Hampshire is dead for this year, as a legislative committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to retain the bill for further study.
The “red flag” bill, if signed into law, would enable a law enforcement officer, family or household member, or intimate partner to file a petition with a district division of the Circuit Court, alleging that the person named in the petition poses a significant risk of causing bodily injury to himself or others by having a firearm.
The petition would have to be accompanied by a written affidavit, signed by the petitioner under oath.
After holding a hearing, a judge could issue an extreme risk protection order that would prohibit the person named in the order from purchasing, possessing or receiving any firearms and direct that person to turn over all firearms and ammunition in their control to local law enforcement.
The order would remain in effect as long as specified by the judge, subject to appeal, not to exceed 12 months
In any hearing to appeal the order, the people whose guns were taken would have “the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence” that they no longer pose a significant risk of injury to themselves or others.
A majority of members on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee felt there were too many questions about the bill that might be resolved if the committee had more time to work on it.
The bill could now be reintroduced next year. If not, it will die in committee.
“It’s encouraging to hear that we have bipartisan support to make this happen,” Rep. Debra Altschiller, a Democrat, said after the vote. “I’m glad to hear they are willing to work on it, but there are going to be some families that are very disappointed. Hard phone calls to make today.”
The unanimous vote to retain the bill came after an amendment introduced by Altschiller to address concerns about due process failed in a 10-10 tie. Democrats John Bordenet of Keene and Julie Radhakrishmnan of Amherst voted with the eight Republicans on the committee against the amendment.
It would have raised the standard for determination of risk in judicial hearings from probable cause to clear and convincing evidence, in response to concerns raised by the ACLU-NH.
Several members complained that the amendment was sprung on them at the last minute, as part of a 13-page bill that they wanted to re-read in its entirety.
“I’ve been told there’s only one change, but I don’t know if that’s all there is,” said Bordenet. “Due to just receiving this amendment five minutes ago, I’m going to have to say ‘no.’”
Altschiller took issue with that characterization of the timing.
“It’s disappointing that it seems a number of reps didn’t do their reading before they showed up at the meeting because they all had this in their email in boxes last night,” she said. “We made a correction to bring the standards up higher in response to requests from them.”
Once the amendment failed, it was clear there were not enough votes to pass the bill. A motion to recommend “ought to pass” failed 6-14. The motion to retain the bill for further study passed 20-0.
“The ACLU has a lot of concerns about this bill and we should be putting in our best efforts to get this right,” said Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem. “I want to achieve a balance with the justice side and the public safety side, which is why I wear the scales of justice pin.”
Abbas was among a group of five male Republicans on the committee wearing a string of fake pearls during the vote, in support of the Women’s Defense League of N.H., a pro-gun rights group that opposes the bill. The wearing of the pearls at a well-attended public hearing on the bill last week caused a social media firestorm.
The committee also voted 12-8 “ought to pass” along party lines on HB 514, imposing a waiting period of seven days between the purchase and delivery of a firearm. That bill now moves to the House floor for a vote, most likely next week.