Editorial: The danger of doing nothing on guns

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Students protesting the Parkland massacre: Don’t let up. Don’t give up. Keep the pressure on lawmakers who refuse to enact gun laws that will reduce the carnage. If they don’t, pledge to work for candidates who will.

The giant ball that represents reasonable limits on firearm availability and lethality is near the summit. A majority of Americans, including many gun owners, members of law enforcement and veterans, support stronger background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons and the high-capacity magazines that make it easy to kill and wound many people in a matter of minutes. Magazines like the ones used to kill 17 students and faculty members in Florida last month, magazines like those used in the killing of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and other mass killings.

Walk out of school if it’s necessary to make a statement or, better yet, teach in. Devote time, as many area schools are doing, to discussing school safety, Second Amendment rights and responsibilities, the political process and how to change it. Push the ball over the top. The public is with you and support will grow as long as peace is maintained and requests are reasonable.

Last week, Edward Stack, chief executive of the 715-store Dick’s Sporting Goods chain, announced that the company would no longer sell AR-15-style rifles, high-capacity magazines or any firearm at all to buyers under age 21.

“We have tremendous respect and admiration for the students organizing and making their voices heard regarding gun violence in schools and elsewhere in our country. We have heard you. The nation has heard you,” Stack said.

Walmart, which stopped selling assault rifles in 2015, joined in the ban on gun sales to minors last week.

The guns will still be available. The website of Bass Pro Shops in Hooksett, for example, offers one model for $600 that comes with one 30-round magazine and a $2,000 model that comes with three.

New Hampshire lawmakers have failed to reform the state’s gun laws and couldn’t even manage to ban bump stocks, the devices that allowed the killer of 59 concert-goers in Las Vegas to convert assault rifles into the functional equivalent of machine guns. If anything, the state took a step backward when Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation eliminating the need to get a police background check and permit to carry a concealed weapon.

We fear no mayhem as a result of the governor’s decision, since neither Vermont nor Maine require concealed carry permits and gunplay hasn’t increased. Nonetheless, the background checks may play a part in keeping a lethal weapon out of the hands of people unfit to carry one clandestinely.

Students, the state’s lawmakers need to hear you. New Hampshire cannot wait, as its governor prefers, for federal action, action that may never occur or be more than token measures.

Strengthening background checks and improving mental health care will help, but that isn’t enough. The problem stems from easy access to guns, particularly weapons and magazines capable of holding up to 100 rounds.

Lawmakers, along with prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges, need to rethink the practice of plea bargaining the vast majority of crimes from felonies, which prohibit gun ownership by people convicted of one, to misdemeanors, which allow them to legally purchase firearms. One study found that handgun buyers convicted of violent misdemeanors are nine to 15 times more likely to commit another violent crime.

No combination of laws and policy changes will prevent every mass shooting in a nation with hundreds of millions of firearms, but doing nothing will mean more Columbines, Sandy Hooks and Parklands.