DOVER, NH — Local law enforcement officials in support of Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a bill that would allow citizens to use deadly force in self-defense with civil immunity say they’re not only satisfied with the current law, but are concerned the new bill would produce unintended consequences.
SB 88, which would allow a person to use deadly force to protect themselves or a third party and face civil immunity in certain circumstances, was vetoed earlier this year by Lynch, who has been vocal in his view that the bill would make the job of law enforcement more difficult.
“I believe strongly that this is an issue of public safety, and we should be supporting law enforcement on this important issue,” Lynch said. “An ideology that is out of touch with New Hampshire should not be put above public safety, but that is what we are seeing from the other side. This bill is reckless and dangerous, and it emboldens criminals by giving them a legal out when they use deadly force.”
Local law enforcement officials from Dover and Rochester agree with the Governor’s veto, and say the current law has served the state well.
“I do strongly feel the current law about deadly force is well-written,” said Dover Police Chief Anthony Colorusso, who has served in the city for more than 26 years. “In my experience, the current law works for the average citizen and creates a standard where if you perform a criminal act, you’ll be held accountable. I believe the new law will work for the average citizen, but it could also work for the criminal element — people who are using force and then hiding behind the new law.”
Colorusso said he’s concerned criminal acts could be justified in court under SB 88, and the prosecution would have difficulty handing up an indictment.
In Rochester, Police Chief David Dubois also said the current law works and is mainly concerned of the unintended consequences of passing the new law.
“The bill, as written, will provide some prosecution problems for law enforcement in cases where violence has increased I think unnecessarily,” he said. “I think the intentions of the drafters of the bill and people supporting the bill are very good; I think they’re trying to create a situation where people can defend themselves. But I think it allows people to defend themselves in situations where deadly force is unnecessary.”
Dubois said the intention in his opposition of the bill is not to come across as though people shouldn’t be able to protect themselves.
“They have the ability now to protect themselves,” he said of current law. “There’s the potential with this bill that people could engage in deadly force encounters in public that presently wouldn’t be allowed by law.”
Lynch said his concern is the law change would cause an increase in crime.
“In New Hampshire, we respect and we support law enforcement,” he said. “We should not be making the job of law enforcement any more difficult than it already is, nor should ideology trump public safety. This bill does both.”
The biggest issue between current law and SB 88, he said, is justification. Currently, an individual would have to justify use of deadly force against another, and the law indicates deadly force is justified if an individual feels as though they’re confronted with deadly force and threatened. Current law also stipulates an individual should retreat if they feel they have the ability to do so safety.
“With the new law, they don’t have to do that anymore,” Dubois said. “All they have to do is say they felt a threat. A very subjective threat.”
Dubois also said people haven’t agreed with the obligation to retreat under current law.
Prime Sponsor of SB 88, Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, said the expectation to retreat is shortsighted.
“The issue is, these attacks — violent attacks that can do physical harm to you or your family, they occur spontaneously and you have a split second to make a decision,” Boutin said. “We take the idea of justifiable force very seriously and our citizens should not have to be put in a position of defending themselves or possibly going to jail because maybe they didn’t retreat.”
He likened the situation to baseball.
“An umpire has a split second to determine whether it’s a ball or a strike,” he said. “It’s the same thing in real life. You don’t have time to say, ‘Oh geez, should I run?’”
Boutin disagrees that current law is sufficient, saying while people currently have the right to defend themselves, they do not have the right to stand their ground.
“That’s what’s in SB 88,” he said. “It says you have a right to defend yourself wherever you have the right to be. You should have the right to defend yourself if someone were to attack you.”
He said 31 states already have this provision in place, and noted there’s a 21 percent higher robbery rate in states that don’t have these provisions.
House Republican Speaker Bill O’Brien recently released a statement in opposition of the Governor’s veto, saying the bill “simply ensures lawful gun owners can defend themselves when they are threatened.”
He added, “Having the right to carry a firearm, but then saying that you can’t use it to defend yourself when your life is in danger is absurd and shows a lack of respect for the safety of Granite Staters. Not only does Senate Bill 88 allow our state’s citizens to protect themselves, it also ensures the deterrence of events like the riots in Britain; with the override of the Governor’s veto, something that simply would never happen in New Hampshire.”
House Republican Majority Leader DJ Bettencourt commented law enforcement bureaucrats traditionally are in favor of disarming the public, he said, “Taking away the rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms does nothing to reduce crime. Armed self-defense is the bedrock upon which our freedoms arose and are guaranteed.”
However, there has been confusion about the intent of the bill as it relates to the right to bear arms.
“The record will show that from the time I introduced that bill to now, I made it very clear that this is not a gun bill,” Boutin said. “It’s a self-defense bill. The reality is there are many ways of defending yourself from physical harm — it could be a bat, gun, even a frying pan. The minute you use it to ward off an attacker, it become a weapon. It’s not a gun bill.”
Colorusso said he’s heard misleading rhetoric about the bill and also said it has nothing to do with guns and his opposition to the bill is in no way an intention to take away gun rights.
“This is not an anti-gun bill,” he said. “This has nothing to do with firearms. People say, ‘Why can’t we defend ourselves if we’re threatened?’ Well you can. You can carry a gun. You can openly carry in this state. It’s not a gun bill. It’s deadly force.”
He gave the example of a shooting at the Meadows apartment complex in Dover where one individual shot another. Colorusso said one of the things police are considering is whether that shooting was justified.
“Under the current law, it’s pretty clear what evidence we would need,” he said. “Under the new law, it would make it justifiable. Is that really what we want? The decision to shoot and kill someone is the ultimate decision. And that’s the other part of the current law. The new law makes it easier. The current law is working as intended.”
(c)2011 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services