N.H. Lawmakers Hear Hours of Testimony on 'Red Flag' Gun Bill

Mar 5, 2019

Lawmakers in Concord heard hours of testimony on a so-called “red flag” gun control bill Tuesday. The measure would temporarily prohibit firearm possession for up to one year for people considered to be a risk to themselves or others.

Under the proposed law, a family member, roommate, law enforcement officer and others could petition a court to look at factors like evidence of serious mental illness before issuing what's called an extreme risk protection order.

During testimony, Exeter resident Margaret Tilton spoke about her son George, who she said exhibited warning signs before committing suicide with a gun in 2017.

"Severe recurrent mental illness, multiple threats of violence against self, recent acquisition of a firearm: These should have been trip wires for a more robust response," Tilton said.

The ACLU of New Hampshire -- while not taking a position -- raised concerns about the bill, including that it doesn't outline sufficient standards for evidence.

Jaye Rancourt, a Manchester attorney, spoke on behalf of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “We also do not oppose gun restriction legislation. However, we are opposing this bill because of the poor wording of the bill, the many undefined terms in the bill, and the constitutional problems that it raises,” Rancourt said.

Gun rights groups also came to the State House to protest the bill, including Joe Hannon with the Gun Owners of New Hampshire.

"You know, committing a crime is not relevant to having this done,” Hannon said. “This is basically pre-crime, we haven't really heard a lot of testimony about pre-crime. This is someone being punished and having their rights restricted because they may commit a crime."

Deb Howard, a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense volunteer from North Hampton, said she was submitting to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee a petition for passage of the bill, signed by 663 New Hampshire residents.

“A common thread in many mass shootings and other acts of gun violence is that family members of the shooters had noticed their loved ones engaging in dangerous behaviors and were concerned about the risk of harming themselves or others,” Howard said.

Several supporters of the bill pointed to the number of gun suicides in New Hampshire as reason to pass the measure. Most firearm deaths in the state are due to suicide.  

“As an expert on suicide prevention, I’m often asked, why are the suicide rates continuing to go up?” said Ken Norton, Executive Director of NAMI NH. “And the answer is because we’ve done little to stop it, little as a state and little as a society. And I think that this bill is an attempt to provide some mechanism for families and for protecting individuals when they are at risk to themselves.”

Massachusetts and Vermont and several other states have passed similar red flag laws.

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If you or someone you know exhibits any of the warning signs of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) More resources are available from the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Center.