CONCORD, N.H. — Deadly force will continue to be a viable first option in New Hampshire for individuals defending themselves or others in a public place regardless of whether they could safely retreat from the threat, after a Senate vote Thursday effectively leaves the state’s stand-your-ground law in place.
The Senate voted 19-5 to table a bill that repeals parts of a law adopted two years ago that allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves any place they have a right to be and that does not place on them a duty to retreat first if they can. The Senate is expected to let the measure die.
The bill calls for returning the law to the old law based on the Castle Doctrine, which says a person does not have to retreat from intruders at home before using deadly force. The law adopted two years ago expanded that principle to public places.
Laws in at least 20 states say a person has no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place the person has a legal right to be, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Several states besides New Hampshire have been revisiting their self-defense laws since the Florida case in which George Zimmerman was charged in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman argues the shooting was self-defense.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office supports the old law, arguing that it balanced the rights of people to defend themselves with protections for the sanctity of life.
But bill opponents argue the change would hurt honest people defending themselves and others against criminals. They said police often show up at a crime scene to investigate the aftermath, which is too late to protect people. Requiring someone to retreat was tantamount to telling victims they can’t defend themselves since they would have seconds to decide whose rights took precedence, opponents said.
The bill would not repeal a provision that grants civil immunity to using force against assailants under some circumstances or a provision that says brandishing a weapon isn’t considered deadly force under the law.
The brandishing provision was inspired by Moultonborough farmer Ward Bird’s incarceration on a mandatory minimum three-year sentence for showing a gun when a trespasser refused to leave his property. Bird was jailed for several months before the Executive Council took the rare step of commuting his sentence.