By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Knowing it is not likely that Gov. Chris Sununu will sign “Red Flag” Extreme Risk Protection legislation, state Senate President Donna Soucy held a Zoom gathering with supporters and advocates Monday when signing it to send it on to Gov. Chris Sununu.
Soucy, said, “It’s painted by some as extreme, as taking away rights. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.” This legislation is truly about a small step to ensure people’s safety and wellbeing, Soucy said.
State Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, the prime sponsor of House Bill 687, spoke about the history of the legislation and thanked the many people who testified in favor and who have written and called Sununu’s office urging him to sign it.
“This is a public safety bill with public health implications,” Altschiller said. “The intention and purpose of this bill is to address the gap in New Hampshire statutes that leave families and law enforcement powerless when they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears a loved one in crisis exhibiting suicidal ideation or threats to harm other people.”
Sununu did not respond to an email seeking comment on the legislation, but has said he doesn’t support any changes to the state’s gun laws.
The Senate voted June 29 along party lines 14 to 10 to approve the bill. Opponents said a person’s firearms could be confiscated without any legal response in ex parte hearings over the telephone and the bill could encourage abuse by disgruntled family members.
State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said while well-intentioned, the bill does not require anyone found to be a danger to themselves or others to have a mental health evaluation.
“This only takes someone to say there is something wrong to get into court to take away your Second Amendment rights,” Carson said. “You’re guilty before you can prove your innocence. That is not how our system of jurisprudence works.”
Carson said she could not support a bill that takes away someone’s rights based on the accusation of another person. “That is wrong.”
In news release Monday, Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, called it a bill establishing a procedure for issuing extreme risk protection orders to protect against persons who pose an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others. It will next be delivered to the Secretary of State before heading to Sununu’s desk where he will have five business days to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.
“Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) laws are a public health and safety measure. In 2018, a CDC report identified New Hampshire as having the third highest increase in suicide deaths nationwide,” Hennessey said.
She said it is the second leading cause of death in people under the age of 24 and accounts for 90 percent of gun deaths in New Hampshire.
“This cannot continue,” Hennessey said. “HB 687 creates due process that gives concerned family members and law enforcement the tools to request assistance from our courts in protecting someone who may be a danger to themselves and others. I urge Governor Sununu to lend his support to this life saving legislation and sign HB 687 into law.”