By Barbara Tetreault

COOS COUNTY — While the movement to designate Coos County as a Second Amendment Sanctuary ran into legal snags, the bill that spurred the effort has been vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Last Friday, Sununu vetoed House Bill 687, commonly known as the “Red Flag” or extreme risk protection bill. The bill allowed police or family members to petition the court to temporarily suspend an individual’s right to possess or purchase a firearm if they present a danger to themselves or others. The bill is designed to allow authorities to remove firearms from people considered at high risk to commit suicide or mass shootings.

Passage of the bill by the House last winter led a large group of gun rights advocates to petition the Coos County delegation to declare Coos County a Second Amendment Sanctuary and prohibit the sheriff’s department from enforcing any state and federal law that violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s right to bear arms.

Coos County Attorney John McCormick ruled the county lacked the authority to make such a designation.

A majority of the Coos delegation voted in favor of the bill. Voting in favor were Reps. Larry Laflamme (D-Berlin), Wayne Moynihan (D-Dummer) , Yvonne Thomas (D-Berlin), Henry Noel (D-Berlin), Bill Hatch (D-Gorham) and Edith Tucker (D-Randolph). Voting against the bill were Reps. Kevin Craig (R-Lancaster), Michael Furbush (R-Colebrook) and Troy Merner (R-Lancaster). Rep. John Fothgrill (R-Colebrook) did not vote. District I Senator David Starr (R-Franconia) voted against the bill.

In his veto message, Sununu said he has made suicide prevention and mental health top priorities for his administration.

“Unfortunately, the process laid out in House Bill 687 goes too far and would weaken the constitutional rights of law-abiding New Hampshire citizens. This bill could lead to situations where law-abiding Granite Staters have their property seized with no notice or opportunity to speak in their own defense,” he said.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) responded that the bill was designed to reduce gun deaths and suicides and 19 other states have enacted similar legislation.

“In a state that has seen a 47 percent increase pre-pandemic in the suicide rate and the knowledge that over half of all suicides involve a firearm, it is sickening that Governor Sununu refuses to sign widely accepted legislation that can empower family members and law enforcement to prevent more tragic loss,” she said.

State Sen. Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover) said the state lost nearly 1,200 residents to suicide between 2013 and 2017 and about half involved a firearm.

“The intention is not, as the opposition has wrongfully argued, to take away guns from their lawful owners. The intention is to give concerned family members and law enforcement the proper tools to request assistance from our courts in protecting someone who may be a danger to themselves and others,” she said.

House Minority Leader Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack), praised the veto, saying Republicans were united against the bill.

“HB 687 would have set a dangerous precedent by adding yet another tool to strip law-abiding citizens of their guns,” he said. “This bill will inevitably result in false accusations and abuse that will lead to suspension of an individual’s constitutional rights without proper due process.”

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