Home > Uncategorized > An Op Ed on the NRA, Guns, and Legislation Needed in NH for our Local Newspaper

An Op Ed on the NRA, Guns, and Legislation Needed in NH for our Local Newspaper

February 21, 2018

Our local newspaper has had many letters and op ed pieces on guns in school… and I’ve written many (maybe TOO many) posts on this topic of late… but the carnage in public schools that results from guns and our State Governor’s and Legislature’s recent actions on gun control have driven me to writing multiple posts, letters to legislators, and this op ed piece:

Last Wednesday a 19-year old dropout came to the Florida school he once attended and opened fire on his former classmates. The AP report of the mass murder noted that the shooter was equipped with a gas mask and smoke grenades, set off a fire alarm to draw students out of classrooms shortly before the day ended at one of Florida’s largest schools, and opened fire on them with a high-powered rifle. Students who knew the shooter described how his volatile and strange behavior caused him to lose friends and become more and more isolated. As the news cycle went on, we learned that this troubled high school dropout legally acquired a military-style rifle designed to take out large numbers of enemy troops on a battle field, the very weapon used in several recent mass murders. And finally and predictably, we read of saddened legislators offering thoughts and prayers and heard our President encouraging us to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health”. By the end of the week, after everyone weighed in on what should happen next, the New York Times reported that: “Republicans called for prayers, but argued that no single fix to the nation’s gun laws would deter a shooting like the one on Wednesday.” I beg to differ… and encourage legislators to look closely at history to see that the passage of laws on gun control DID make a difference not so long ago.

During the 1970s, there were only two mass shootings at public schools. During that decade common sense prevailed in terms of weapons in school and the acquisition of guns, common sense that was written into laws in the late 1960s. During that era there was bi-partisan political support and NRA support for gun control, which led to the passage of the federal gun control act (GCA) of 1968. At the hearing on that bill, NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth supported the bill’s ban on mail-order sales, stating, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” In the late 1960s several states also passed laws limiting the use of firearms, including California’s passage of the Mulford Act which forbid the carrying of loaded weapons in public.  In response to the passage of this law, then California Governor Ronald Reagan stated that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and asserted that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.”

Why have politicians changed their thinking since then? Three factors contributed: the NRA became more aggressive in lobbying for gun owner rights; as the NRA gained political power through their lobbying they gained control of the narrative on gun control; and, as a nation we have tacitly accepted the NRA’s assertion that citizens need guns to protect themselves from each other and “the government”.

The NRA mission has changed dramatically since the 1960s and early 1970s when it focused on sportsman, hunters, and target shooting. After the organization’s leaders supported the federal GCA in 1968, a group of NRA members banded together to elect individuals who would seek to repeal the bill and expand gun owner’s rights. By 1977 that group had taken control of the NRA and determined to make the organization into a formidable lobbying force. That activist group’s political views dominate the legislative agenda of the NRA today, drowning out the views of more moderate members in the organization and framing the national debate on guns.

In the recent past, the NRA “slippery slope” argument—that ANY restrictions on guns will inexorably lead to the confiscation of ALL guns—has seldom been challenged and often trumpeted by politicians. The NRA’s mantra that “guns don’t kill people” and its variants like “mental health is the issue” have dominated the public discourse on gun ownership. And finally, the public accepts NRA’s contention that the issues that lead to mass murders are so complex they defy any kind of legislative remedy. Thus, we hear the GOP declaring that “…no single fix to the nation’s gun laws would deter a shooting like the one on Wednesday” while we don’t hear anyone asking the most obvious gun control question of all: “Why does ANY citizen in our country need to own a gun designed to kill large numbers of human beings?” As a result of the way the NRA frames the debate, we have not engaged in any meaningful debate on how we might limit the purchase of guns or confiscate guns from individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others. We’ve determined that those on the no-fly list, those who are mentally unbalanced and threaten to kill people, and those who are under temporary restraining orders should maintain their Second Amendment Rights at all costs. Unfortunately, those costs include the loss life of students and teachers in schools, of those attending night clubs in Florida, of those attending street festivals in Nevada, of those attending movies in Colorado, of those attending church on Sunday in Texas, and those who are killed in domestic disputes and suicides where guns are involved.

Despite these mass killings over the past decade, we have been unwilling to limit the rights of anyone to acquire any kind of gun and carry it anywhere because we have accepted the NRA’s most devastating assertion of all: that citizens need to have guns to protect themselves from each other and “the government”. In the 1960s, the gun control act (GCA) of 1968 was passed in response to the Kennedy assassination. California’s Mulford Act, introduced in 1967, was passed in response to the Black Panther Party’s decision to conduct armed patrols of Oakland neighborhoods because of their objection to treatment by the local police force. By contrast, in today’s world neither the shooting of innocent civilians by individuals with high-powered weapons nor the presence of armed militias in Charlottesville “to provide order at the protest” compelled any legislative action except to call for more citizens to carry concealed weapons and to encourage more “armed volunteers” to patrol school grounds and public spaces. In effect, we have adopted the view that vigilante justice needs to replace the rule of law.

And now that we have accepted the NRA’s positions on gun ownership, we find ourselves in a world where anyone can acquire a gun of any kind and anyone can bring that gun into a school, into a public meeting, or into any area where large numbers are gathered. We find ourselves in a world where school districts are expected to respond to the widespread availability of guns by increasing their spending on surveillance equipment, on sophisticated door locks, and on the hiring of SROs to assist in monitoring schools. We find ourselves in a world where schools are expected to spend $1.1 billion on physical security in 2018. And… we find ourselves in a world where school shootings are on the increase: 297 school students were killed in 137 school shootings between 1980 and 2013 and 438 students killed in 273 school shooting incidents in the three year period following the Sandy Hook incident at the end of 2012. And we find ourselves in a world that cannot believe there was a decade when only two school shootings occurred and laws forbid the possession of loaded weapons.

So what can be done, apart from offering “thoughts and prayers”? David Berliner, Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University, offered an idea in Diane Ravtich’s blog: a strike by teachers on April 20 if states fail to enact sane legislation on weapons in schools. Why teachers? Because, as Ms. Ravitch notes, “…teachers are now first responders, trained to protect their students if a shooter gets in the building. Some have given their lives for their students. Enough is enough.”

In New Hampshire we could start restoring sanity to our gun legislation by passing a law that allows local school boards to enact policies that restrict weapons in schools. As reported in several Valley News articles, our State’s AG Office has ruled that only the legislature, not school districts, can enact firearms bans, except for students and staff. If the legislature is unwilling to enforce the federal laws regarding weapons free schools, they should at least give locally elected school boards the authority to ban weapons. If local control is the hallmark of New Hampshire government, giving local boards this authority makes perfect sense. Secondly, the New Hampshire legislature could repeal the bill Governor Chris Sununu signed into law a year ago that did away with the requirement that gun owners have a permit to carry a concealed handgun and gave local police chiefs the ability to deny such a permit. Finally, the legislature might look to the bills passed in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook shootings there. As a result of their legislation the number of gun deaths dropped in that state, an outcome I hope most legislators would seek.

I am tired of living in a world where my grandchildren have to live in fear when they go to school because we want to make certain anyone can buy any kind of weapon and carry it with them at any time and any place. I’m tired of living in a world where schools are expected to spend millions of dollars on surveillance equipment and armed guards so that any citizen can buy a gun designed to kill humans. I’m tired of living in a world where profiling troubled teenagers and adults on social media is seen as a better solution to shootings than developing any kind of background checks on gun purchasers. And most of all, I’m tired of living a world where the legislators encourage citizens to arm themselves for their own protection. Instead of supporting the “every-person-for-themselves” worldview of the NRA, I hope that in the future our legislators will promote a collaborative worldview: a world where local school boards, selectboards, police forces, and social service agencies are encouraged to team up to help troubled youth and adults connect with their community… a world where hope replaces fear.

 

 

 

 

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