Commentary: Legislature looks at gun deaths across nation, says: ‘We need more guns’

Demonstrators hold up signs against gun violence in front of the Capitol.
Demonstrators hold up signs, representing victims of gun violence, along the east front of the U.S. Capitol on June 20, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Tom Brenner | Getty Images)

The news is so pervasive, it makes you not want to turn on the TV or look online at all: There’s been another shooting. Where? A home in Texas. A grocery store in Boulder. A spa in Atlanta. This place. That place. It can happen anywhere. And it does.

More than 100 people are killed by firearms in this country every day, and another 230 are wounded. People are killed via gun homicides, suicides, and gun accidents. No other wealthy country comes close to meeting these statistics; none of them would tolerate it. The United States of America is the only country in the world populated by more guns than people – approximately 400 million firearms for 331 million people – and which, suffering a death-by-firearm rate of almost 40,000 people per year, shrugs its collective shoulders and continually says, “This is fine.”

This is madness.

No country should find acceptable the slaughter of its citizens as they go about their daily business of living. Men, women, and children should be able to go to work, to school, to places of worship, to the grocery store with confidence that they will not be shot before the end of the day. Shootings should not appear on the news with the regularity of the weather report.

Yet here we are. 

The most frustrating aspect of this crisis is that we know how to reduce it. If we implement gun-safety and gun-violence prevention measures, the bloodshed won’t disappear entirely, but it will decrease. A non-exhaustive list of such measures includes: universal background checks to ensure people who shouldn’t own a firearm don’t get access to one, because, for example, they have a record of domestic abuse; a waiting period between sale and delivery to conduct background checks and to get past the impulsivity that is so often the cause of firearm-conducted suicide; a ban on large-capacity magazines, which have no legitimate civilian use; a ban on AR-15s and other military-style assault rifles, which are designed as weapons of war to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible and also have no legitimate purpose amongst the civilian population; extreme risk protection order laws (also known as ERPOs or red-flag laws) that allow those closest to a person to obtain an order removing firearms access from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others for a period of time; and safe-storage provisions to guard against accidents, especially where children are concerned.

What do you not see in this list? Banning all guns. Eradicating the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Pro-gun groups oppose all proposed firearms restrictions in part because, they say, any restriction will lead to total confiscation, but that is a sham argument, not to be taken seriously in the face of the mounting death toll.

In a sane world, the Venn diagram of gun owners and those who advocate for gun safety would largely overlap. In fact, even the National Rifle Association advocated for gun control and gun safety until the early 1970s. After that, the organization, backed by gun manufacturers, began to shift toward its current extreme view, which is that the Second Amendment means that no restrictions of any kind can be placed on individual firearms ownership.

This is an absurd position. No right in the Constitution is absolute – even the First Amendment’s cherished freedom of speech, for example, can be limited as to time, place, or manner. And the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, like any other right in the Constitution, must be balanced against other rights, like the right of citizens to live through the end of the day. 

Pro-gun forces, however, do not see things this way. Rather than employ the power they won in the 2020 election to balance the right to own firearms with their responsibility to safeguard the lives of the people they govern, the GOP-led New Hampshire Legislature is working to enact the most extreme legislation ever placed upon this state’s altar of gun violence. These include:

  • A bill to wipe out any existing – and ban any future – town ordinance or school or college campus rule restricting guns in any way, with punishments for officials who try to protect their residents or staff and students;
  • A bill to expand New Hampshire’s Stand Your Ground law (the kind of law that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to escape conviction) to vehicles, making road-rage situations potentially deadlier; 
  • A bill to ban any New Hampshire state enforcement of President Joe Biden’s (or any future president’s) executive orders that attempt to reduce gun violence;
  • A New Hampshire constitutional amendment forbidding the passage of any future gun-violence prevention measures;
  • A measure excepting “display of a firearm” from reckless conduct, including in situations of domestic abuse;
  • A bill that allows someone to use a gun in response to any mere trespass upon their property; and
  • A bill to make it legal to carry a loaded firearm on a snowmobile. 

In other words, the GOP-led Legislature is doing its best to make it illegal for there to be any restriction of any kind on the sale or use of firearms in this state. Given their present stranglehold on all four levers of power, they just might succeed.

Is this really what the people of New Hampshire want? A gun free-for-all? Ease in purchasing of guns, little if any enforcement, no ability to regulate guns on campuses, in schools, public parks and hiking trails, etc.? A state where people shoot first and ask questions later? Communities where road-rage incidents can turn into murder scenes, where someone can shoot someone else and utter the magic words “I felt threatened” to make it all okay? 

When and how does it stop? I have heard pro-gun advocates state that the only way we can all truly be safe is when each of us carries a gun at all times. Is that how we want to live?

There is a reasonable middle ground, and it is this: People can own guns, but with sensible gun-safety restrictions in place. Neither our federal nor our state constitutions say that tens of thousands of Americans are required to die each year so that gun owners can avoid universal background checks and own sleek, military-grade killing machines. These constitutions do not require children to grow up in fear of being shot in school, or all of us to live knowing that we might die from a bullet today, or any day, at grocery store, a concert, a mall, or anywhere else. And they do not mandate that we must arm ourselves against our will in order to protect ourselves from ubiquitous armed fellow citizens, some of whom shouldn’t have firearms in the first place.

This is your community. If you don’t want to live in a fortress, you know what to do. Your representatives are waiting for your call.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett is the leader of the Kent Street Coalition’s Working Group for Gun Violence Prevention.