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March 10. 2014 4:22PM

Sam Cohen: ‘No compromise’ gun groups shoot themselves in the foot

Gun Owners of America (GOA) has been attacking New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 244 from the beginning with the shock propaganda phrase, “See a shrink, lose your guns.” The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition (NHFC) has adopted the GOA slogan. They’re both wrong. And tragically, that slogan may scare people away from getting the mental health help they really need.

SB 244 would add New Hampshire to the other 37 states that report mental health gun-possession disqualifiers in the same way as felony conviction gun disqualifiers to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS), which licensed dealers must query by phone when they sell a gun. Importantly, it also would create, for the first time, a legal mechanism to “un-prohibit” people whose mental health problems have been cured.

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee is considering an amendment proposed by the committee chair, Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, that would retain the second part of the bill — to allow people to remove themselves from the disqualified list — while deferring the first part to a commission to investigate its nuances. Unaccountably, GOA and the NHFC oppose even this version.

The problem with the “see a shrink, lose your guns” rhetoric is that it’s simply not true. People who object to SB 244 keep saying that the bill would disqualify people from possessing guns, but that’s a huge mistake: the people who would be reported to NICS are already disqualified. They are disqualified whether their names are on NICS or not.

In New Hampshire, to be disqualified from gun ownership for mental health reasons requires a court order (with a defense lawyer present) that a person is a “danger to himself or others,” is incompetent to manage his affairs or stand trial, is found not guilty by reason of insanity in a criminal case, or is involuntarily committed to a mental health institution (specifically excluding emergency three-day observation). This is already the law. Reporting such people to NICS, as SB 244 would do, not only helps protect society from truly dangerous people, it saves disqualified potential buyers from committing a federal felony that carries a ten-year prison sentence, which is the result of lying on the federal paperwork for buying a gun from a licensed dealer. It also protects dealers from civil and possible criminal liability resulting from selling a gun to a federally prohibited person.

While the billionaire politician Michael Bloomberg has been promoting mental health gun-prohibition legislation, and the Veterans Administration has been pushing PTSD diagnoses into gun disqualifiers, SB2 44 has nothing to do with the VA or Bloomberg. The bill originated with the the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry trade organization, along with the NRA.

And that brings us back to Gun Owners of America and the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition. GOA has always positioned itself as the “no compromise” rival of the NRA, and the NHFC also claims “no compromise” status in New Hampshire. They’ve declared SB 244 as “anti-gun” — their favorite insult — and have gone to desperate lengths to demonize its supporters, including my organization, Pro-Gun New Hampshire, which GOA has also declared “anti-gun.”

Since they started attacking us in January, we’ve been posting articles on our website, www.PGNH.org, exposing their errors. For example, to show the supposed horrors of SB 244, GOA wrote about the case of Noreen Cousins, a woman from Ossipee who was arguably mistreated in what was supposed to be a three-day IEA (Involuntary Emergency Admission for mental health observation), as reported in a Union Leader article on Feb. 3 (“Employee sues hospital after being locked up for 6 days for claimed ‘homicidal ideation’”). Ironically, this ploy backfired, as Cousins didn’t even come close to being prohibited from possessing guns.

Most recently, state Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, the secretary of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, even labeled the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the ultimate source of SB2 44, as “anti-gun,” telling legislators that NSSF is an anti-gun pro-Bloomberg organization, and that is why any form of SB 244 needs to be killed. 

But the firearms industry trade association certainly isn’t anti-gun. And why would gun-rights organizations oppose a bill that restores the gun rights of people who are found to be safe and sane after their mental health problems have been cured?

The “no compromise” label is a smart marketing tool to attract membership, donations and political support, but by attacking good legislation and good organizations with absurd vitriol and downright lies, GOA and NHFC are shooting themselves in the foot.

Sam Cohen is executive vice president and CEO of Pro-Gun New Hampshire, Inc., a Second Amendment membership organization.


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