Local police are concerned public safety could be at risk after lawmakers voted yesterday to override the governor's veto of a bill that allows people to use deadly force in public places.
The New Hampshire House voted, 251-111, to overturn the veto of Senate Bill 88 a week after the state Senate did the same.
Members of the Republican-dominated House praised the move, saying it gives New Hampshire residents the right to adequately protect themselves.
The previous law only allowed people to use a gun or other weapon to defend themselves in their own homes. The new law, which takes effect in 60 days, allows deadly force anywhere.
That's why police are worried.
"It could certainly lead to some unfortunate results," Kingston police Chief Donald Briggs said. "I have some concerns with the law."
Briggs and other police officials said people who feel threatened are more likely to take action, even if that means firing a gun in a crowded public place. Police throughout New Hampshire have vehemently opposed the bill. "People do things in the heat of the moment that they later wish they hadn't done," Briggs said.
Pelham police Lt. Gary Fisher also disagrees with the new law.
"I am surprised it was overridden and I think it's a little extreme," he said.
Fisher said he didn't think enough lawmakers would step forward to support an override. A two-thirds vote was needed.
He said the new law is open to too much interpretation on what is allowed and how the measure should be enforced. The current law was fine, Fisher said.
Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said he is also concerned about public safety and what could happen in a dangerous situation.
"There are a lot of issues that surround this that make it bad legislation and make it bad law," he said. "If people use common sense, this wouldn't be as bad as it could be. And, hopefully, people will use common sense."
The bill is based on the Castle Doctrine, which says someone does not have to retreat from intruders in their home before using deadly force. The measure grants civil immunity to those who use force against assailants in some situations.
Another opponent is Salem police Chief Paul Donovan, who has said the consequences could be tragic if someone who felt threatened suddenly decided to open fire.
"You just can't have people firing off gunshots in a crowd of people," he said after last week's state Senate override. "I think (the bill) takes it a step too far."
Donovan could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Colin Manning, spokesman for Gov. John Lynch, said the override is not in the best interests of New Hampshire residents.
"The Legislature has chosen to put politics above public safety," he said. "Law enforcement from across the state and at all levels stood united in opposition to this bill. When it comes to matters of public safety, we should be listening to law enforcement."
Southern New Hampshire supporters of the bill include many GOP lawmakers. House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt of Salem is among them.
"Taking away the right of armed self-defense from law-abiding citizens does nothing to reduce crime," he said in a statement. "We were happy to stand with the citizens of New Hampshire today in overturning the governor's veto and fighting back on his attack on the basic human right to protect ourselves and our families when in harm's way."
Another backer is Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, who disagrees with police.
Welch said he had faith in New Hampshire residents "that those scenarios depicted by law enforcement of blood in the streets will not occur."
The issue led to further controversy yesterday as Democrats complained House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, called for a veto override vote without notifying them or the public. His office had told the media that votes on vetoed bills were unlikely yesterday.
Asked how people would know when it was on the House agenda, O'Brien said: "The chair sets the agenda. It is now on the agenda."
Earlier this year, O'Brien announced a vote on a collective bargaining bill would be scheduled, but no vote was called because he was unsure if there were enough votes to override the veto.
Bill opponents have since had to attend every House session they could, not knowing if a vote would be held.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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