New Hampshire residents have the right to use deadly force to defend themselves at home. Soon, it's likely they will have that same right everywhere.
In a move that dismayed police officials and Gov. John Lynch, the Senate yesterday voted, 17-7, to override Lynch's veto of an expanded deadly force law.
Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted a bill that allows the public to use deadly force against an assailant, regardless of the location. But Lynch vetoed the measure. Senate Bill 88 now heads to the House for an override vote next week.
Law enforcement officials across the state have been vehement in their protests of the measure. Police chiefs have said New Hampshire's current self-defense law adequately protects the public.
They also say the legislation would lead to increased crime and make it more difficult to prosecute criminals.
Salem police Chief Paul Donovan said the bill is a "solution to a problem that doesn't exist."
Expanding the state's deadly force law would make little difference but would put more people at risk, he said.
Although residents now are allowed to use deadly force to protect themselves at home, the legislation would extend that right to public places.
That includes The Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem, Donovan said. If someone at the mall felt threatened and retaliated, the consequences could be tragic for many, he said.
"Can we allow citizens to take the law into their own hands?" he said. "You just can't have people firing off gun shots in a crowd of people."
Windham police Capt. Mike Caron agreed.
"I think (the bill) takes it a step too far," he said. "People are allowed to protect themselves. I think the way the law is now is fine."
Lynch and law enforcement officers throughout the state held a press conference Tuesday to voice their opposition to the bill.
"I listened to the brave men and women who patrol our streets and our neighborhoods, who work to put criminals behind bars, and I came to the same conclusion that they did: Senate Bill 88 is dangerous, it is reckless and it is wrong for public safety and it is wrong for New Hampshire," Lynch said.
Opponents include the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police, the New Hampshire Sheriffs Association, the New Hampshire Police Association and the New Hampshire Troopers Association.
Senators from Southern New Hampshire were among those who backed the veto override, including Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem.
Morse was one of the 19 Republican senators to vote for the bill in June. Two GOP senators, Bob Odell of Lempster and Nancy Stiles of Hampton, switched their votes yesterday and opposed the veto override. All five Democratic senators opposed the legislation.
"Quite honestly, I think it's a good self-defense bill," Morse said.
Thirty-one states have similar laws, he added. The bill is based on the Castle Doctrine, which gives citizens the right to defend themselves at home, based on the idea of a home being one's castle.
Despite the opposition from law enforcement, Morse said, the legislation offers the public protection it needs.
"We all listened to their concerns and there is no question I respect them," Morse said. "There was no need to change our vote from June."
Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, said it was necessary to extend the right to protect oneself to public places.
"It's about people being able to defend themselves in a place where they have a right to be," he said.
Prescott said opponents have wrongly cast the bill as a move to undermine police authority.
"That's not really the issue," he said. "The bill is not an anti-police community bill."
The issue now heads to the House, where Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, and Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, support the override.
"Taking away the right of armed self-defense from law-abiding citizens does nothing to reduce crime," Bettencourt said in a statement.
He said House Republicans will work for the override.
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