The New Hampshire House passed a bill Wednesday to allow police or relatives to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from people who present a danger to themselves or others.
The 201-176 vote on the opening day of the new legislative session moved New Hampshire a step closer to joining 17 other states and Washington, D.C., in passing so-called "red flag" laws.
"I believe we can all agree that firearms in the hands of dangerous people are a threat to public safety. It's time now to address that threat and put an extreme risk protection order in place here at home," said Rep. Nancy Murphy, D-Merrimack. "Let's show the people of New Hampshire we are serious about public safety."
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The bill's sponsor, Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, read a letter from Dr. Margaret Tilton, of Exeter, who spoke at a public hearing last March about the death of her 23-year-old son, George.
After struggling with depression for years, she said, he bought a handgun in 2016. That time, police were able to persuade him to surrender the gun, but he bought another one in 2017 and three weeks later killed himself, she said.
"I told his story, our family's story, here in this chamber. And afterwards, I felt I had betrayed my son's privacy for nothing. George would have never wanted me to share his struggles publicly, but I felt I had an obligation to other families," Tilton wrote. "Please, have the courage to vote yes for this legislation. You will give some nameless, faceless parent who will probably never thank you the ability to keep their child safe, maybe long enough for their loved one to regain a sense of hope and to choose life."
Supporters said the measure is needed in a state where the suicide rate is rising faster than elsewhere and would be used only in cases of extreme risk.
Opponents argued the bill violates not only the right to own firearms, but also other constitutional guarantees, such as the right to due legal process, to confront an accuser, and against unreasonable searches and seizures of property.
Rep. Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson, called it an "unconstitutional, gun-grabbing bill" that would "turn due process rights upside down." Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said he also opposed the bill because it would disarm someone without doing anything to address the reason they were a danger to themselves or others.
"The firearm itself is not the motivation behind why this person wants to harm themselves or others. This bill ignores that crisis," he said.
While other states have passed red-flag laws, Republicans in Oklahoma and Kansas are proposing measures aimed at blocking them.
Proposals in those states would declare that any gun-removal order from another state or a federal court are null and void, and no state or local agency could accept federal grants that require such orders to be enforced. The proposals also would prevent local city and county governments from enacting such laws and make it a felony for someone to help enforce such an order.
The New Hampshire bill now goes to the Senate, which, like the House, is controlled by Democrats. But even if it passes, it likely will be vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
"After voting it out of committee with no recommendation and retaining it last year, it is clear the Legislature cannot even come to a consensus on this bill – even 22 Democrats voted against it today," Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in an email. "Governor Sununu has long said New Hampshire's Second Amendment laws are where they need to be and he's not looking to make any changes.
The bill was among hundreds of bills leftover from last year that lawmakers must act on before moving on to nearly 1,000 new bills filed this session.