All Sections

Home  Editorials

Legal drive-bys? Case against 'stand-your-ground' false

March 25. 2013 4:48PM

Opponents of New Hampshire's young "stand your ground" law predicted two years ago that it would lead to shootouts on New Hampshire's streets. It has not. Their new prediction, equally baseless, is that it will allow thugs to murder innocent people at will and escape prosecution.

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D-Penacook, is House majority leader and the sponsor of House Bill 135, which would repeal the state's "stand your ground" law. That 2011 law made it legal for a person to use deadly force in self defense in response to the use of deadly force "anywhere he or she has a right to be."

In a column we have printed on the opposite page, Shurtleff makes some misleading claims to promote his bill, which is on the House calendar for Wednesday. The most misleading is his use of a 2011 Manchester homicide in which Tony Hebert was charged with shooting to death Pablo Samniego. Hebert was in his car, the reportedly unarmed Samniego on a sidewalk with a friend.

"Had this incident occurred just four months later, after 'stand your ground' became law in New Hampshire, Hebert would have more legal cover for his actions. The ability to safely remove oneself from an encounter, even when the person knows it wouldn't expose himself or herself or anyone else to danger, is no longer even taken into consideration. Under 'stand your ground,' resorting to violence is legal even when the person knows he or she doesn't need to."

This is false. Hebert's defense has asserted - but offered no evidence - that the victim acted aggressively. The law states very clearly that the defensive use of deadly force is justified if the person "reasonably believes" the aggressor "is about to use unlawful, deadly force against the actor or a third person" or use deadly force in the commission of a short list of other crimes. That did not change with the addition of the "stand your ground" clause. That clause simply added the words "or anywhere he or she has the right to be" to the portion of the law describing where such a defense can be used without first attempting to flee. It did not remove the rest of the law requiring the use of deadly force to be a legally justified act of self defense.

Using the term "drive-by shooting" (Hebert was stopped, according to reports), Shurtleff implies that gangland-style killings are now legally justifiable in New Hampshire. They clearly are not, and if the House majority leader really thinks otherwise that is truly shocking.

Shurtleff says opponents of his bill were not truthful when they claimed it would "force people to 'turn and run' from an attack." He then states repeatedly that his bill would make it illegal to use violence if one could "safely remove oneself from an encounter..." In other words, it would require people to "'turn and run' from an attack" if they could. Why would he claim otherwise?

Opponents of New Hampshire's narrowly tailored "stand your ground" law (it is not the confusing mess they have in Florida) have resorted to distortions and misrepresentations about the law's effects since before it was enacted. They cannot make a compelling case for repeal otherwise because the law is not the danger to public safety that they claim it is. This is self-evident. If the law had made New Hampshire less safe, there would be a strong case for scrapping it. Opponents do the public a disservice by falsely claiming that it has.

Politics Public Safety Editorial

Newsletter Signup