Should NH add legal protections for “displaying” a firearm?
While the national debate over gun control heats up, one New Hampshire bill examines the legal area before any shots are fired. HB 195 would shield “displaying a firearm” from the state’s reckless conduct law. Bill supporters argue this will protect gunowners who show a firearm to stop a crime before it happens. Opponents worry HB 195 will empower gunowners to terrorize people during conflicts.
What is reckless conduct?
For example, people have been charged with reckless conduct after leaving narcotics unattended around children, firing a gun through a wall while cleaning it, firing warning shots in the air, and speeding in a car towards pedestrians.
Under current state law, reckless conduct is a misdemeanor unless a person uses a deadly weapon such as a knife or gun; then reckless conduct is a felony.
Bill to exclude firearms from reckless conduct
HB 195 would add a line to the law against reckless conduct that states, “Displaying a firearm shall not constitute reckless conduct.”
The key language here is “displaying” rather than “brandishing” or another verb. The bill almost certainly wouldn’t protect someone who points a gun at an unarmed person and threatens to shoot them. However, according to the bill sponsor Rep. Michael Yakubovich (R-Hooksett), HB 195 would protect someone who carries a firearm and draws attention to this. He provided an example of a homeowner hearing a disturbance outside and leaving his house with a gun in hand.
Arguments for HB 195
At the public hearing for HB 195, Rep. Yakubovich testified that displaying a firearm can deescalate many potentially violent or criminal situations. He argued firearm owners should not fear a reckless conduct charge just for showing they possess a weapon and can protect themselves during a confrontation.
Other lawmakers similarly argued that just because people are intimidated by firearms doesn’t mean the state should be able to construe open carrying as dangerous behavior.
There are separate laws about criminal threatening that would still allow the state to prosecute someone if they threaten another person and are not acting in self-defense.
Arguments against HB 195
Opponents of HB 195 argue that the verb “displaying” is too vague and could potentially empower gun owners to nonverbally threaten or terrorize other people.
Members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety debated how this law might play out in several hypothetical scenarios. What if the passenger in a road rage incident shows a firearm through a window? What if an abusive partner places a firearm on the table during an otherwise casual conversation? It would depend on the specific facts of a case to determine if those actions were protected by HB 195 or criminal under other laws.
Opponents also point out that there is a separate state law that already protects the right display a firearm to warn away a person threatening serious bodily injury or death. HB 195 would address situations where there is not necessarily a clear threat that merits the use of a firearm.
What’s next for HB 195?
The full House will vote on HB 195 on their next voting days, April 7-9. If you have an opinion on HB 195, contact your representatives and ask them to vote accordingly. You can find your state representatives here.
Update 8/1/21: Gov. Sununu signed HB 195 into law.
The House will vote on several other gun rights bills April 7-9. For example, the House will vote on CACR 8 (a constitutional amendment banning gun restrictions) and HB 307 (prohibiting local/school gun bans). Learn more about ongoing debates on our Gun Laws topic page.