After the Las Vegas massacre, the debate over guns is back, in Congress and in the Granite State. At one point soon after the shooting, it seemed there might be a narrow area of agreement: banning or regulating a device called a "bump-stock" that accelerated gunfire in the most recent mass shooting. Still, as our conversation made plain, vast differences of opinion remain, and common ground may be fast disappearing.
- Nicole Fortune -- An attorney based in Hooksett. A former county prosecutor, she served in the U.S. Army in military intelligence and is the attorney for Gun Owners of New Hampshire.
- JR Hoell -- Republican state representative from Dunbarton and board member of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition. He co-sponsored a bill that became law this year, repealing the license requirement to carry a concealed weapon.
- Robin Skudlarek -- Vice chairman of the Londonderry Democrats. She is a volunteer with the New Hampshire chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
- Jeff Woodburn -- State Senate Minority Leader and a Democrat from Whitefield.
Below comments have been edited slightly for clarity and conciseness.
Middle ground on guns still elusive.
JR Hoell: Legislation that tries to enact controls or prohibitions on items is a failed policy from the start. What we need to do is start thinking about ways to make sure criminals who act in behaviors that are criminal in nature go ahead and are prosecuted for such behavior.
Jeff Woodburn: I represent the most rural legislative district. I understand the culture of guns. I have a concealed carry permit. I am not afraid of guns I actually feel safe when I see people I know in my neighborhood who bear arms and I understand the responsibility they have. But we have a situation in this country with this proliferation of armament that is greater than most of our local police departments. Three percent of the people own 50 percent of these guns and it's a situation that (calls for) good policy.
Nicole Fortune: I think the primary issue is that when people talk about, Let's come to the table and talk about infringing your gun rights. They're inherently asking you to come to the table to discuss giving up a right that's an inalienable right. Inalienable means that it's not transferable. It's not alienable, and it can't just be given away...There’s a basic lack of understanding that what you’re asking is somebody to acquiesce to giving up a certain amount of their inherent rights....Gun control does not work. You’re looking at an object and you’re trying to take an inanimate object and regulate it when you really need to be regulating the behavior and creating deterrents against that type of behavior.
Robin Skudlarek: I actually think the American people, the people of our state, I think we have the majority. The cross-section of our country, 80%, want to see universal background checks. Statewide, I think it's 73% of gun owners want to see background checks. Only when you get into Washington DC and Congress it’s no longer 80, 20, it becomes 50, 50, along party lines.
The Constitution also gives me the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for myself and my children. And I actually think that the Second Amendment is not absolute. It comes with a great deal of responsibility that we have to work on. I don't like to use the word actually gun control. And we're not trying to actually control the object; we're trying to enact laws on people. Obviously it's not a law for an inanimate object but it is a law for the people that would get their hands on these very dangerous weapons, and guns are only for one thing, for killing.
I'm a gun owner. I'm a hunter. I'm a veteran. But I can't agree with these people on the Second Amendment, that it's limitless. We limit the First Amendment. I would like them to comment on whether they think we shouldn’t have libel laws. We limit the Fourth Amendment. We allow police to search cars without without a warrant. There's a lot of limits on the various parts of the Bill of Rights. And the only one that they seem to think shouldn’t have any limit is the Second Amendment. – Exchange listener, Frederick.
On training, background checks.
Fortune: Training prior to being able to affect your Second Amendment right to bear arms is not particularly different from a Jim Crow law that required you to learn how to read before you are allowed to vote. Nobody is going to support that. So why would you support a barrier of this nature for the Second Amendment?
Skudlarek: Guns killed 33,000 in our country; 100, 000 people are shot every year. If anything else was doing that to our citizens, to our country, to our people, to our children, we would do something about it. Imagine the Ebola virus coming in and all of a sudden 30,000 people a year are dead. We would all be coming together to do something. It seems that it's only when it comes down to guns that there doesn't seem to be this willingness to come together. Except, when you poll people, they want to see universal background checks. Background checks are a start.
On proposals to ban bump stocks.
Hoell: The current bump stocks are a free-market solution to the 1986 gun control act, which automatically banned additional machine guns from being available in the public. It basically shut down that supply. Unfortunately, government can regulate a number of things, but it cannot necessarily stop the free market from responding. So, what would happen if you started to ban bump stocks is 3D printers may take off, because now all of a sudden someone can print one of these. A friend of mine looked up and ten seconds later the information was available online through YouTube, to go ahead and create this, the equivalent, in your home.
The legislation that I've seen that is being introduced at the federal level would in fact regulate every secondary trigger assembly. If you wanted to buy a trigger assembly that was better for target shooting, that was more accurate, that had a nice crisp feel, all of a sudden that would be regulated as well. So I have a feeling this is going down this path of unintended consequences in terms of how we would regulate bump stocks or any other accessories, with no real value.
Fortune: What the bump stock does does not make the firearm itself shoot any faster. It enables the individual who's shooting to pull the trigger faster. Likewise, you can do the same thing with your belt loop. You can do the same thing with rubber bands; you can do the same things with two sticks. So the fact of the matter is by trying to ban the bump stocks thinking that this is going to be a problem solver, it just isn't because there are other methodologies already in existence right now. So again you have to go back to the behavior and not the item.
Skudlarek: I wonder why they would think that having something that would make it much easier to convert a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon would be a good thing.
Woodburn: I can't go to the grocery store and buy bulk fluids to clean my house because of the crystal meth issue. There's a process to slow that process down. And what we're hearing here again is that there's absolutely no willingness to compromise; no willingness to sit down. My door is always open. I have voted against some gun-safety measures because I didn't think they were effective. I agree technology is always changing. But the idea that we, the wealthiest, smartest country on the face of this earth, that we can't begin to solve this problem...that we can't begin to address this issue with this country, I don’t believe it.
Read/Listen to: NHPR reporter Casey McDermott's interview with a gun-store owner who sees merit in compromise:
"I'm all for changing those 'software' issues of policy and training. But there's going to have to be a little bit of give on the other side, too. If a gun person is going to submit themselves to training, licensing and extra stuff than they do now, maybe we need to talk about interstate acceptance of those training requirements so that maybe if you want to carry concealed it's not state-by-state, and you're always playing this guessing game." -- Ben Beauchemin of Wicked Weaponry in Hooksett.
NPR's reporting on how the U.S. compares to other countries when it comes to gun violence:
The U.S. has the 31st highest rate in the world: 3.85 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people in 2016. That was eight times higher than the rate in Canada, which had .48 deaths per 100,000 people — and 27 times higher than the one in Denmark, which had .14 deaths per 100,000.
How more and more research led a statistician to grow less and less certain about the merits of gun control:
"I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths." -- Leah Libresco, statistician and former newswriter for FiveThirtyEight.
And more articles of interest:
The NRA's position on proposals to ban gun devices used by the Las Vegas killer.
Prior to the Las Vegas shooting, the Trump Administration had begun easing some gun regulations.
Conservative New York Times columnist proposes repealing the Second Amendment, and National Review columnist responds, calling it "barely a column," so much as a "brusque list of ill-considered assertions."