CONCORD — At the suggestion of the same governor who thwarted their gun control efforts last session, Democrats have reintroduced identical legislation, which inflamed passions again Wednesday in its first hearing of the 2020 session.
Last year, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed five bills impacting the rights of firearm owners sent to his desk by the Democratically led Legislature. A solid Republican minority upheld all the vetoes.
Nonetheless, his staff said he “wanted to keep the conversation going,” said State Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord.
So Rogers returned with the same bill as last year. HB 1101 would impose a three-day waiting period before someone could take home a purchased firearm.
“A waiting period will not stop all acts of senseless violence, every suicide, and sadly it won’t prevent every shooting, but does that mean we just stand by and watch the violence continue?” Rogers asked the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
“For those of you who say New Hampshire is the safest place on the planet, take off your glasses and read the headlines. We do have violence in this state.”
In an email Wednesday evening, Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt challenged Rogers’ assessment of the governor’s position: “Governor Sununu has long said New Hampshire’ Second Amendment laws are where they need to be and he’s not looking to make any changes.”
At the hearing, Robert Newton of Lyndeborough said those pursuing gun control fail to admit that restrictions on the rights of law-abiding firearm owners give criminals an advantage.
“What is the cause of all this loss of life? It isn’t a weapon, an ax; it’s an evil person wielding the gun for an evil motive. Gun violence is a meaningless term,” Newton said.
“I have never seen a gun jump up and harm someone. People are violent.”
The two-hour-plus hearing drew a roomful of supporters and opponents to the Legislative Office Building.
After the hearing on HB 1101, almost the entire crowd stayed to face off over a second bill to require a background check for all commercial firearm sales (HB 1379).
Advocates maintain a waiting period could reduce the incidence of suicide by gun.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the eighth-leading cause of death in New Hampshire during 2017, the most recent year of state-by-state comparisons.
On a per-capita basis, the 265 suicide deaths here had NH tied for 16th with Maine with a rate above the national average.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have firearm waiting periods.
On Wednesday, waiting-period supporters pointed to six years ago, when three people committed suicide shortly after buying a gun from the same New Hampshire shop over an 11-day period.
Ken Norton, executive director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Hampshire, said that led to unprecedented reform.
The firearm sale industry responded with the NH Gun Shop project in 2013, urging friends and loved ones to intervene when they see someone at risk of using a gun to harm themselves or others.
“Today suicide is the second leading cause for those 18-34, the third for those 35-44 and the fourth-leading cause of death for those 45-54 years old. This is a growing, troubling trend,” Norton said.
Gun rights speakers evoked the tragedy of New Jersey hair stylist Carole Brown, stabbed to death in 2015 by her ex-boyfriend while her application for a handgun license languished at her local police station.
Laura Condon of Bedford said many years ago she was stalked day after day by a man who eventually exposed himself to her.
Local police asked Condon if she were armed and trained to use a weapon; Condon said the answer to both questions was yes.
“I should never want to be put in a position where I should have to wait to protect myself,” Condon said.
Lea Cushman, a registered nurse and mother in Weare, said she had been in an abusive relationship years ago in Massachusetts where she didn’t have a license to carry a gun.
“Guns save lives. I would ask we stop this conversation in New Hampshire.”
Dr. Leonard Korn, past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said his group decided in 2014 that the epidemic of mass shootings called for his group to advocate for gun control.
“For us gun violence is not a political issue; it’s an issue of public health and public safety,” Korn said.
Korn said New Hampshire’s per-capita rate of gun deaths went up 51 percent from 2008 to 2017, while the national increase during that same period was 17 percent.