Granite staters understand better than most the importance of the Second Amendment. Guns are a necessary part of life, whether for protection or for sport. The North Country would be unlivable without them. And hunting is critical to New Hampshire’s economy, contributing more than $61 million annually. If anything, guns are a way of life.
In the hands of law-abiding Granite Staters, guns serve to protect families and communities. But as we learned in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, in the wrong hands, guns can also terrorize those same communities.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired Navy Captain Mark Kelly, founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions — and both gun owners — are committed to finding common-sense solutions to prevent gun violence in our communities. More than 80 percent of Granite Staters also understand the need to strike that balance when it comes to gun rights and responsibilities.
While Congress has failed to act on this issue, it is encouraging to see New Hampshire lawmakers engaged in a discussion of how to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. A number of bills currently under consideration protect the Second Amendment rights of responsible Granite Staters and prevent the most dangerous people from accessing firearms.
Federal law requires that individuals seeking to buy a gun at a licensed dealer pass a background check to prevent criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people from purchasing firearms. Since the NICS instant background check system was implemented in 1998, background checks have denied transfers to more than 2 million prohibited purchasers.
While those 2 million prohibited purchasers include some New Hampshire criminals, the list doesn’t include some of the dangerously mentally ill.
Fundamentally, gun violence stems from the most dangerous people in America having easy access to guns, a small number of whom are capable of horrendous acts due to severe mental illness. For that reason, federal law seeks to prevent those who have been adjudicated by the courts from passing a background check. This happens through a process that includes courts, judges and due process. It’s a high bar, as it should be. It is important not to stigmatize the mentally ill because the vast majority of Americans living with mental illness pose no threat to public safety.
But New Hampshire is leaving its communities vulnerable by not including the names of adjudicated severely mentally ill in the background check system. These individuals are prohibited from possessing guns, but a New Hampshire gun dealer currently has no way of knowing that. The threat is real: People could be committed to a mental healthcare facility because of the danger they pose to themselves and others, but still be able to buy as many guns as they want. Senate Bill 244 would require the state submit a list of names of people who already cannot possess a gun under this federal law to the NICS instant background check system. This appears to be an extremely balanced approach to preventing gun violence, given the fact that 37 other states have already complied.
The New Hampshire State House is also engaging in a discussion about expanding background checks to all private sales, with some exceptions. House Bill 1589 would require that all firearms be sold or transferred through a licensed firearms dealer, preventing private sales or sales through the Internet or at gun shows from being conducted without background checks. While common-sense implementation is needed, so as to prevent undue burdens on law-abiding gun sellers and buyers, expanding background checks to all gun sales would only go further in protecting New Hampshire communities.
As one of the earliest political bellwethers in the country, it is not surprising that the nation is focused on New Hampshire this month. Time and again, Granite Staters have led the rest of the country in choosing Presidents by highlighting issues of importance and finding a balanced candidate to send through to the national stage. It is time for New Hampshire to find that balance again to help protect our families and communities.
Pia Carusone is executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. Carusone formerly worked for 1st District U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester.