Should NH have a “red flag” law?
Rep. Debra Altschiller has proposed legislation for 2019 instituting “extreme risk protection orders”. A person subject to an “extreme risk protection order” would be required to surrender any firearms and ammunition to law enforcement and would be prevented from owning guns for the duration of the order. Such an order would be issued based on evidence a person is an imminent threat to themselves or others.
The protection order process
If the person petitioning for the order requests immediate action, a judge would be required to hold a temporary risk protection order hearing the same day or on the next business day. The court would not need to notify the person subject to the order before the emergency hearing; however, the court would need to schedule a follow-up hearing at a later date to give the person a chance to respond.
If a hearing finds there is reasonable cause to believe that the accused person is a risk to themselves or others, the district court could issue a risk protection order. Risk protection orders issued after an emergency hearing would be temporary, and only last until the later hearing date, when the person subject to the order is notified and has a chance to respond to the accusations. Once the full hearing process is complete, and if there is clear and convincing evidence the person is a danger, the court could issue an order lasting up to 12 months. The protection orders would be entered into the FBI’s criminal background check database.
After an order the court could also issue a warrant for law enforcement to search the person’s property and seize any firearms and ammunition.
The bill lays out some examples of evidence the court could consider when determining whether a risk protection order is appropriate:
- An act or threat of violence within the past 24 months (regardless of whether it involved a firearm)
- Evidence of serious mental illness
- Past domestic violence or violation of a domestic violence protection order
- A previous or existing risk protection order or violation of such an order
- Reckless use of a firearm
- Threatening to physically harm someone or stalking them
- Evidence of substance abuse or alcoholism
- Sworn witness testimony against the accused person
Return of firearms
If the risk protection order is vacated or ends without extension, the person could request a court motion to return their firearms. At this time, the accuser would be notified and have the chance to ask for an extension of the order.
It would be a Class B felony if a person violates a risk protection order against them. If an accuser knowingly files a false report they would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Pros and cons
Proponents say “red flag” laws make it possible to stop gun violence before it has the chance to take place, potentially saving countless innocent lives. They point out that a risk protection order would only be temporary and the accused person would have the chance to defend themselves in court.
Opponents of such “red flag” laws argue that New Hampshire’s current gun laws are sufficient. They feel the bill could infringe on citizens’ Second Amendment rights and puts too much power in the hands of district court judges.
Should NH institute a “red flag” law allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize firearms from a person deemed a risk to themselves or others?
Discussion held on Citizens Count website and Facebook page January 9, 2019
No: 337 people were opposed to instituting a “red flag” law.
- “This is one of those proposals that sounds all reasonable and useful....if you don’t understand the inevitable abuses and the unintended consequences. I vote no. Due process matters, and my right to own my firearms is also precious to me...because there is something that happened to me before I had a gun, and now I have the means to keep it from ever happening again.”
- “New Hampshire is one of the safest states and highest in gun ownership. Stop infringing on the rights of the people!”
- “No! Just enforce the laws that are already established.”
Yes: 48 people were in favor of instituting a “red flag” law..
- “If the person is a threat to themselves or others and it’s justified, they should have their firearms taken away.”
- “I am a NH resident and I think this is a no-brainier. The Second Amendment does not provide for an absolute right. There are exceptions just as there are First Amendment exceptions. We need to secure the rights of the People to be free from harm; this is a reasonable step in that direction.”
- “Astounding how many people would rather allow people that are a danger to themselves or society to remain armed because they are worried they will lose their gun rights...think about that folks.”
Other: 32 people commented on related questions and issues instead.
- Confusion over current laws: “I thought this was already enacted? I’ve seen this already take place.”
- Consider alternatives: “I'm 50/50 on this...I do think doing more for [mental] illness would be a step in the right direction....”
- A fine line: “Everyone says no but the first comment after a mass shooting is why was he allowed a gun if they knew he had issues? It's a fine line issue. Would like to hear more discussion from both sides.”
*Editor selection of actual participant quotes.