You're in your second-floor West Side apartment with your two preschool kids and your wife leaves for work.
You hear raised voices in the hallway and realize your wife is arguing with the downstairs neighbors.
What do you do? If you’re Nicholas Chaney, you grab your handgun from its perch on a shelf of DVDs and walk downstairs.
No one got hurt when he did that last May. But he ended up facing two felony charges of criminal threatening, which could have meant as much as six years in prison.
Chaney spent a day-and-a-half at Valley Street jail and then eight months waiting for his case to go to trial. Last month, prosecutors dropped the charges just days before trial was to start.
“I’ve been set into full-on depression about this. You have no idea how traumatizing getting thrown into jail is,” said Chaney, who is 33.
Guns. We love them in New Hampshire, so much that Gov. Chris Sununu and the state Legislature quickly peeled off some restrictions when they got into power last year. Add to that President Trump and the Republican Party’s embrace of the NRA agenda, and everyone knows it’s OK to own a gun, to carry a gun, and to conceal a gun here in New Hampshire.
But if you pick up your Smith and Wesson when you hear your wife in an argument?
“I’m allowed to carry a gun, and I’m allowed to kill somebody to protect myself,” Chaney said, “but it seems everything in between is absolutely unacceptable.”
Hillsborough County Attorney Dennis Hogan sees it differently. Hogan said his office only dropped the case because prosecutors couldn’t find the alleged victims. He didn’t rule out resurrecting the charges if they surface.
“In general, we have a bias that you shouldn’t bring a gun to an argument. It escalates things,” Hogan said.
Chaney was born in Texas and said guns have been his life-long hobby. He shot for the New Hampshire State Rifle team. He is a certified armorer, meaning he can repair a gun without voiding the factory warranty.
He has a concealed weapon permit. He said he’s never been in trouble with the law before.
At the time of his arrest, he was working at the DHL warehouse but was later laid off.
He said he doesn’t leave his apartment without his .40-caliber handgun. After his arrest, police confiscated his 10 guns, which range from muzzleloaders to a small .22-caliber handgun. Manchester police will eventually have to return them.
He’s been grazed by a bullet before, when his father’s gun went off accidentally. He dismisses my question about stashing a firearm about 6 feet off the ground on a shelf of DVDs, saying his 5-year-old could never reach it.
Here’s how the arrest went down: On May 22, Chaney and his wife Anna were arguing before she left for work. That prompted their downstairs neighbors — identified in court complaints as Jerry Piere and Theresa Brucker — to confront Anna on the hallway stairs as she tried to leave their apartment building at 290 Conant St.
Piere and Brucker told police that Chaney appeared on the hallway stairs landing with gun in hand. Piere said he was “waving it around as he was speaking.” Brucker told cops she was afraid and retreated into her apartment.
Chaney has a different version. He said his gun was in-hand, but at his side. He eventually pocketed it when Piere said “Really, bro?” He added that both Piere and Brucker are over 6 feet tall, while Anna is barely 100 pounds.
“The gun was there in case they laid a hand on my wife. Either one of these people could kill my wife in a minute or two,” he said.
A grand jury indicted Chaney in July; each charge carried a prison term of 3 to 20 years.
He refused a plea bargain that would have put him in state prison for a year. His public defender planned to claim self-defense.
Hogan said his office gets such cases from time to time. His best advice in a confrontation? Just walk away.
And in what is a paradox, the latest change in the state’s gun laws — which allows any legal gun owner to conceal a weapon — makes criminal threatening less likely.
“If they don’t see it, they can’t be threatened,” Hogan said. “The Legislature solved the problem, another benefit of having a Republican government.”
Maybe so. Yet, Manchester is still laying the legal boundary between guns and safety. It’s a messy task. Consider Alycia Neely, the Manchester mom arrested last year for having a loaded gun in a glove compartment with a car full of kids.
Like Chaney, she had to deal with the economic and mental fallout of an arrest — job loss, anxiety, etc. Like Chaney, her charges were dropped. And like Chaney, she lives in a city where guns scare people and get shot off more often than in towns like Orford or Swanzey.
“I just want to get as far away from the city as I can at this point,” Chaney said.