Op-ed: When is the Time to Take Action on Gun Violence Prevention?

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Debra Altschiller

May 10, 2024

This next week, I hope Senate Republicans choose to pass HB 1711. Otherwise, they can name this past session “Opportunities Squandered”, as they will have once again blocked all efforts towards gun violence prevention.

HB 1711 was filed in direct response to the shooting that took place at NH Hospital in 2023, and it authorizes the state to report mental health data that will be cited in firearms background checks. Further, it establishes processes for confiscation of firearms following certain mental health-related court proceedings. HB 1711 is vitally important, and frankly, something we should have passed before the shooting at NH Hospital took place. This week, Senate Republicans serving on the Judiciary Committee voted it down.

When the mass murder in Lewiston, ME happened, Republican legislators seemed to have woken up momentarily– there were some wringing of hands, thoughts, prayers and then – nothing. So far this year, there have been 150 mass shootings in America, but that is not the only kind of gun violence we face. We often think of gun violence only through the lens of high casualty events; of calamities like what took place in Lewiston, Sandy Hook, or Uvalde, but the reality of gun violence is perversely so much more.

In New Hampshire, just this year, we have had shootings in Rochester, Manchester, and Berlin. A credible threat to “shoot up” Portsmouth High School last year was thankfully interrupted, and the perpetrator is behind bars. Another threat in Lebanon was interrupted. Our students and teachers have faced dozens of lockdowns.

Gun violence in New Hampshire is real.

Amidst all this chaos, we also have a suicide epidemic in the Granite State. Within our state, 88% of all firearm deaths are suicides, while the national average is 67%. It is a known fact that the availability of firearms makes someone’s attempt at suicide exponentially more likely to result in their death than when attempting suicide by other means.

We also have instances of domestic violence where an individual uses a gun to intimidate and control their partner, accidental gun discharges that result in death and injury, and children living in homes where safe storage is not practiced. These tragedies happen all too often in the Granite State.

So, what have we done as legislators to address gun violence in New Hampshire?

In 2024, I filed and fought for three bills to mitigate gun violence in our state. One bill to implement extreme risk protection orders (SB 360), one to require a background check prior to any commercial firearm sale (SB 571), and one to impose a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm (SB 577).

I was happy to join my Senate colleague, Senator Donovan Fenton, on the effort to create gun free school zones (SB 593), and join with my House colleague, Representative David Meuse, on a bill to establish a voluntary waiver of the right to purchase a firearm (HB 1050) and one to repeal limited liability for manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition (HB 1037). All of these bills have been rejected by the Republicans in both the House and Senate. They have staunchly refused to join us in any efforts of gun violence prevention.

We are about to close the chapter on our ability to bring forward legislation until 2025. I am deeply disappointed, incredulous actually, that almost every single effort to address gun violence in New Hampshire has been thwarted, save HB 1711.

HB 1711 had strong bipartisan support in the House and showed that it is possible to balance the rights of the Second Amendment and the right of individuals to live safely in their communities. But this past Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Republicans recommended this bill be voted down like all of the others.

Next week, when the bill comes to the floor, will the other eleven Republican Senators recognize the vital need for this bill and vote to pass it? We are anxiously awaiting to see who courageously joins this bipartisan, bicameral bill to address this gap in our current law. Stay tuned.

Gun violence prevention takes work; gun violence doesn’t just go away on its own.

I hope that as we head towards the summer, Granite Staters’ days are full of community events, family gatherings, and celebrating the common ground of our core values. I sincerely hope the tragedy that took place at New Hampshire Hospital never happens again. I believe in us, and I believe we can change for the better. HB 1711 would be that positive change we need to make our communities safer. I hope that all of my colleagues in the Senate recognize this next week, and vote with me to pass HB 1711.

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