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N.H. State Senator: Republicans Are 'Pistol-Whipped' To Avoid Gun Control Talk

New Hampshire Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn says he will file a bill to ban "bump stocks" for guns if his House counterpart cannot muster support to introduce a similar proposal.

Gun debate continues after the mass shooting in Las Vegas that claimed 58 lives and left hundreds injured last week. Woodburn questions if debate will occur at all in Concord.

He vented frustration at the GOP today on NHPR's call-in program The Exchange. (Listen to the show here.)

“How can we find middle ground?” Woodburn said. “We do that every day in politics. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re supposed to do. But this issue is so polarized and the Republicans have been pistol-whipped - fear of retribution if they even talk about gun control.”

Rep. J.R. Hoell, a Republican from Dunbarton, tells NHPR that existing laws should be enforced before any politician starts proposing new ones, including regulations on bump stocks like the ones used by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas.

Bump stocks are devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to be fired at an automatic rate. Hoell says a ban on the accessory would find gun owners finding another free-market alternative. Perhaps, he says, something created by a 3D printer.

House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, hopes to introduce a bump stock ban bill. The House Rules Committee meets Oct. 18 to consider allowing it as a late filing. The House deadline for state reps to submit bills was up last month.

Nicole Fortune, an attorney for Gun Owners of New Hampshire, tells The Exchange that Congress should reject any policy effort that would erode one’s inalienable rights.She says it’s unclear to what degree the bump stock device was used. And she says there are other ways to modify a semi-automatic rifle.

“You have to go back to the behavior, and not the item,” Fortune says.

Robin Skudlarek, a Londonderry volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said political leaders should consider that Americans want action to prevent further gun violence. She cited polling that upward of eight out of ten surveyed support universal background checks.

In New Hampshire, she says, “We have the most lax gun laws in the country. Or close to it.”

On The Exchange, Woodburn argued that the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition is resistant to any proposal or discussion of policy change.

Hoell, who is secretary of the coalition, stands by its slogan as the state’s “only no-compromise gun rights organization.”

“At the end of the day what we don’t want to do is continue down this slippery slope of taking away more and more firearms rights,” Hoell says. “Before we start adding more laws we should make sure we’re enforcing the ones out there.”

Hoell says law enforcement should focus on prosecuting criminals. "Legislation that tries to enact controls or prohibitions on items is a failed policy from the start," he says.

The debate is what Woodburn calls "the granddaddy of our polarization of politics" in America.
"There's been no ability to find middle ground," he said.

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.
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