State lawmakers delay firearms seizure bill

by Cassandra Thomas | 3/28/19 2:05am

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has delayed consideration of a bill that would allow state authorities to remove guns from potentially dangerous individuals. On March 13, the legislation was unanimously retained by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee until Jan. 2020, meaning that the legislature will delay a final decision on the bill until it is reintroduced at that time. 

HB 687, sponsored by Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Rockingham), would establish extreme risk protection order designations and authorize the temporary seizure of firearms from individuals who have a significant risk of harming themselves or others. 

Fourteen states have already passed ERPO bills, while nationwide policymakers are also pushing forward ERPO orders.

Altschiller and her colleagues expressed frustration with creating gun violence prevention policies in the state of New Hampshire, a state famous for its emphasis on individual liberty.

“Doing gun violence prevention work in New Hampshire is always fraught,” Altschiller said. “We have a history of a rich gun culture … There’s no background check required to exchange money for guns unless you are a registered firearm dealer. We know that in New Hampshire, 40 percent of gun sales are done without a background check. That’s a real problem.”

Proponents of the bill said they specifically crafted HB 687 to avoid putting individual freedoms in jeopardy. New Hampshire Representative Mary Jane Mulligan(D-Grafton), a co-sponsor, emphasized the narrow scope of the bill. According to Mulligan, the bill would only affect individuals who are deemed dangerous by a court and would not strip all gun owners of their rights, as critics have suggested.

“[ERPO] designations rely on clear and convincing evidence from a court,” Mulligan explained. “For example, recent acts or threats of violence, evidence of serious mental illness, history of domestic violence, past violent criminal history — those things can be considered by a judge when determining whether a person should keep their gun.”

New Hampshire Representative William Pearson(D-Cheshire), a gun owner himself, said he spent his first two terms in office focused on policy domains outside of gun regulation. However, recent increases in mass shootings and suicides have compelled him to advocate for this kind of legislation.

“It’s bizarre to me that the Second Amendment is the only constitutional right that people can’t legislate,” Pearson said. “When I was growing up in the aftermath of Columbine, the conversation was about preventing school shootings because that would obviously be a terrible thing. But now, the conversation is not, ‘Let’s prevent another Columbine.’ Now, it’s only a matter of time before a school shooting happens.”

Although the bill was retained in committee, its supporters expressed hope that debates surrounding the proposed legislation would strengthen the bill in the long run.

“I don’t view this as a setback,” Pearson said. “Things like this need to be done. If that means the community needs to work harder on it, if that means people’s fears need to be assuaged, I think that’s the right way to go. It’s never a good idea to cram policy down anyone’s throat.”

Although Altschiller and Pearson said that they did not feel that retention of the bill was an outright loss, Mulligan expressed a sense of urgency in passing similar legislation.

“When is New Hampshire going to stand up and protect [its] citizens?” Mulligan asked. “So far, there hasn’t been a mass shooting in New Hampshire. So, are we going to wait until it does happen to close the doors? One person, one child losing their [life] is far too many.”