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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lawmakers should roll back ‘stand-your-ground’ law

Telegraph Editorial

The previous New Hampshire Legislature too frequently adhered to the principle “if it ain’t broke, try to fix it anyway.” It envisioned nonexistent hobgoblins and fashioned needless and often wasteful “solutions” to assuage its paranoia.

So voters were asked to alter the state constitution to ban an income tax and give the Legislature administrative control over the state’s court system. The Legislature set up its own Star Chamber by resurrecting a long-forgotten and unnecessary grievance committee to exploit pet public peeves against state departments otherwise too far beyond its vindictive reach. ...

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The previous New Hampshire Legislature too frequently adhered to the principle “if it ain’t broke, try to fix it anyway.” It envisioned nonexistent hobgoblins and fashioned needless and often wasteful “solutions” to assuage its paranoia.

So voters were asked to alter the state constitution to ban an income tax and give the Legislature administrative control over the state’s court system. The Legislature set up its own Star Chamber by resurrecting a long-forgotten and unnecessary grievance committee to exploit pet public peeves against state departments otherwise too far beyond its vindictive reach.

And, of course, concealed weapons were allowed in House chambers so they would be, as one representative put it, “within reach if some nut job tries to harm me.” It’s unclear if he was referring to any of his colleagues.

These misbegotten diversions from good government all were either rejected by voters or have since been reversed by the current Legislature in its quest to return reason and reasonableness to the state Capitol.

Next up is legislation to roll back the state’s 2011 “stand your ground” law, which expanded the opportunities for average citizens to use deadly force.

A House committee heard five hours of emotional debate last week. Joining the list of supporters was Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice, who said the old law was working just fine.

Historically, New Hampshire residents could use deadly force as a first option only in defense of their home. If in public, when it was possible to do so, people were obligated to first attempt to retreat or avoid a fatal confrontation. One of the law’s goals was to prevent innocent bystanders from being killed or maimed.

Current law extends the right to shoot first and ask questions later to anyplace a person has a right to be – on the street, at the grocery store or in church. Nineteen other states have similar laws.

This is not about guns. At issue is whether “stand your ground” laws enhance or endanger public safety. Growing evidence indicates they do more harm than good.

That is the case in Florida, which in 2005 became the first state to enact a “stand your ground” law. It is also where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, sparking a continuing national debate over the public use of deadly force.

Since the enactment of Florida’s law, claims of justifiable homicide tripled in Florida, according to state data. An analysis of 200 of these cases by The Tampa Bay Times concluded “the law is inconsistently applied and too easily invoked. It has been used to exonerate drug criminals and people on violent rampages, and it has proven to be a burden to the courts.”

Analysis of FBI data done by the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg found states with “stand your ground” laws had a 53.5 percent increase in “justifiable homicides” in the three years following enactment, compared with 4.2 percent for states without such
laws.

What does this all mean? It’s means there’s no justifiable reason why New Hampshire should be part of this grand social experiment to return America
to the Wild West of the
1870s.

In years to come, evidence collected from states with “stand your ground” laws will determine their wisdom or ignorance. For now, though, with no proof New Hampshire’s old law wasn’t working, to have “fixed” it was pure folly.