CONCORD — After one of its own members spoke emotionally about coping with a suicide in his family, the state Senate on Monday approved legislation to allow a judge to temporarily confiscate guns.
Speaking for the so-called red flag bill (HB 687), state Sen. Jon Morgan, D-Brentwood, said his aunt and uncle, in separate incidents years apart, shot themselves and died in Manchester.
Morgan said his Uncle Bob had found his sister shot to death. Morgan recalled being directed years later by his grandmother to come and see Bob’s lifeless body after he shot himself in the throat.
“I’ve seen things like that before,” Morgan said. “It’s different when it’s family; it’s something you can’t un-see.”
Just hours before he spoke Monday, Morgan said he learned that his grandmother had died.
“For 45 and a half years, my grandmother carried around that agony and pain that no parent should ever have to bear,” he said.
But Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said based on as little as a single accusation the measure would turn due process on its head and violate a person’s Second Amendment rights.
“The person has to be proven to be guilty in a court of a law but all it is taking (here) is the word of one person against an individual in order to get these petitions. That is not fair,” Carson said. “This legislation says you are guilty before you can be proven innocent; that’s wrong.”
As expected, the Senate passed the bill on a party-line, 14-10, vote with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition. The bill will eventually head to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu; political observers believe he is likely to veto.
In 2019, Sununu vetoed four gun control measures. Earlier this spring when asked about this measure, Sununu said he saw no need to make any changes to current gun laws.
The action came on the Senate’s final regular business meeting of the 2020 legislative session.
Due to concerns over COVID-19, the 24-person Senate met in the Representatives Hall, the chamber for the 400-member New Hampshire House.
House again meets at UNH
The final meeting of the House is set for Tuesday inside the Whittemore Center on the campus of the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
Currently, 18 states have such red-flag laws including Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, said she believes the measure could reduce the state’s growing rate of suicide.
From 1999-2016, suicides in New Hampshire went up 48.3 percent, the third-highest rate of any state in the nation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“This is a mental health epidemic,” Hennessey said.
Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, gave three examples of “relatives or friends” who have taken their own lives.
“Taking away the constitutional rights of the people of this state on hearsay evidence without due process… it’s just not the answer,” French said.
“We may find there isn’t one that helps.”