By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — Retreat before deadly force.
That option will stand ahead of stand-your-ground for self-defense in public places in New Hampshire, if the state Senate agrees with the House.
By a very slim margin, the House voted yesterday to require people to first consider whether retreat is possible before using deadly force to defend themselves in a public place.
An amended version of House Bill 135 passed, 189-185, after nearly two hours of debate.
Proponents argued the retreat provision merely returns the state to self-defense law in force for 35 years without problems, before the Legislature put stand-your-ground in place last year.
“Note that nothing about the bill prevents one from using deadly force if retreat is not deemed possible,” Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, told the House in a report from the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
But Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont, countered the delay could be costly for those considering retreat.
“Those moments of hesitation may cost them their lives,” Itse said.
Opponents of HB 135 argued criminals would have the upper hand against citizens.
“HB 135 is declaring open season on women,” said Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack.
Peterson recalled being a mugging victim.
“I never want to be that vulnerable again,” she said.
Rep. Richard Burchell, R-Gilmanton Iron Works, also spoke against changing the law.
“Why should we?” he said. “In so doing, we will endanger our law-abiding citizenry.”
Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, said the bill would put a gray area back into the law.
He said he had received more emails about this bill than any other and 99 percent of his constituents opposed it because it is bad legislation.
“It’s outrageous we can’t defend ourselves any place we have a right to be,” Rideout said. “My first thought shouldn’t be, ‘Can I run away from this jerk?’’’
But Rep. Philip Ginsburg, D-Durham, said it comes down to what kind of society people want and making a choice about deadly force with proper consideration.
“Can I resolve the situation without deadly force?” Ginsburg asked.
The House Republican Alliance wasn’t happy with the vote.
“The passage of this politically motivated bill strips away the rights of citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves, others and their property if threatened wherever they have a right to be,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, the alliance’s co-chairman, who participated in floor debate.
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, also criticized the bill.
“Our citizens should not be asked to risk life and limb in retreat simply because there are a handful of thugs who might try and abuse this law,” Chandler said.
Along the way, lawmakers rejected an amendent that would have made the state liable for lost income of people who failed to retreat and lost their lives.
The House also balked at an amendment requiring the state to pay legal costs for anyone prosecuted, but found not guilty, for failing to retreat.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Republican, largely opposed to the measure, hold a majority.