My Turn: Veterans like me want responsible gun laws
I am a U.S. Army veteran having served in Afghanistan in 2010 as a combat medic with the infantry. I served in the mountainous areas of Eastern Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. It was also an area of the country where many Taliban and al-Qaida leaders escaped to Pakistan from after we overthrew the Taliban.
I’ve witnessed gun violence at home as a paramedic and emergency department RN, and abroad as a combat medic.
I am also a proud gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment.
It was in Afghanistan that I saw the effect of children growing up in a war zone. Once I witnessed a vehicle blown up by a roadside bomb. It was followed by shooting from an Afghan police unit. Despite an explosion close enough to feel the shock wave and automatic rifle fire, the children just kept playing. Sadly, it had become that much of their everyday life.
Here in the United States, we pride ourselves on providing a better life for our kids. But, as we reflect as a nation on the one-year of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 first-grade students and six teachers were gunned down, we must recognize our failures.
Poll after poll shows the majority of Granite Staters support background checks to stop felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people from buying firearms.
In New Hampshire, our two U.S. senators were split on the vote for the bipartisan bill: While Sen. Jeanne Shaheen supported it, Sen. Kelly Ayotte did not. As citizens, it’s time for us to step up and voice support in favor of background checks for all gun purchases and to close the loopholes for gun shows and online sales.
That’s why I recently joined Veterans for Responsible Solutions, a national constituency of retired flag officers and senior officers and former enlisted service members of the U.S. armed forces founded by former astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
With some 300 of us across the country from all branches and ranks, we’re working to share our expertise with guns and experiences as vets in support of responsible gun ownership policies and measures to reduce gun violence.
We are taking notice of politicians like Ayotte, who voted against expanding background checks. It’s common-sense legislation to close loopholes so that felons and the dangerously mentally ill can’t buy guns online or at gun shows – avoiding a background check.
According to the Department of Justice, more than 90 percent of background checks are resolved “immediately,” and since 1998, background checks have blocked more than 2 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers.
I have spent much of my life protecting America and the values that make our country great.
I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, but there are people in our nation like convicted felons and the dangerously mentally ill who simply shouldn’t own weapons.
Many of my fellow service members have come home with scars that are not visible. These increased safeguards will not target those of us who have come home with PTSD. It is meant to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are dangerously ill. Shaheen understands that PTSD alone does not make someone dangerous.
As service members in a war zone, each of us had to pass a background check to carry our guns, and we were committed to the responsible use of our weapons. We defended both the Constitution and the safety of our communities. Now we’re asking Congress to protect our rights and the security of our communities by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.
Guns themselves are not the problem, and we believe in the Second Amendment, but we can also come together and pass laws that protect our communities from those who shouldn’t have guns.
Ayotte and others should learn from the courage of our veterans and work to keep our families safe by passing responsible gun violence solutions to prevent these tragedies from occurring again.
(Jeff Ballard of Brookfield is a former U.S. Army combat medic.)