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Sandy Hook victims’ families, gun supporters testify on background check bill

Last modified: 1/22/2014 12:12:29 AM
Strong criticism from gun rights activists followed emotional testimony from parents whose children died in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting as lawmakers considered a bill yesterday to expand background checks for firearm sales in New Hampshire.

The bill, proposed in the House this year, would require background checks before all firearm sales, including gun show and internet sales. Many of its opponents were concerned that it would prevent gun owners from allowing friends to have or borrow their firearms without clearance from a licensed dealer. A violation of the bill would be a felony-level offense.

“What happened at Sandy Hook, God bless them kids there. That’s a shame that that happened,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican. “But this here law would never ever in a million years correct what went on over there.”

Two parents of young children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 were among the bill’s supporters yesterday. Nicole Hockley has traveled the country advocating for background checks and gun control legislation since her 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. She said expanded background checks would not have saved her son, but that has not stopped her from working to save other children from gun violence.

“I’m weary of the constant fighting between ‘gun control’ and ‘gun freedom,’ ” Hockley said. “As a people, why can’t we focus less on our differences and more on our similarities? . . . If even one more child can be saved, isn’t it our moral obligation to do that?”

Mark Barden said he advocates for background checks in memory of his son Daniel, a first-grader who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.

“When I was considering leaving my family to come here today, I just asked myself, ‘What would Daniel do?’ ” he said. “I hold my Second Amendment rights sacred to me, and I do not intend to share them with felons, criminals and terrorists.”

Federal gun restrictions already prohibit felons, fugitives, drug addicts and people under domestic violence restraining orders from purchasing guns. The proposed House bill, similar to legislation blocked in the U.S. Senate last year, would extend background checks to internet and gun show sales of firearms.

The federal government also prohibits people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from purchasing firearms, but mental health records are not public under New Hampshire law. A different bill proposed in the New Hampshire Senate this year would prohibit gun sales to people judged mentally incompetent by a court. It also faced strong opposition at a hearing last week, from mental health advocates and liberty rights activists in addition to gun rights advocates.

Each of the eight sponsors of the background check bill is a Democrat. Rep. Elaine Andrews-Ahearn, its prime sponsor, said expanded background checks would prevent criminals from purchasing firearms.

“This means there will be fewer guns in the hands of dangerous people and then maybe, just maybe, fewer people will be shot,” said Andrews-Ahearn, a Hampton Falls Democrat.

Opponents, who outnumbered the bill’s supporters at yesterday’s hearing, said criminals would purchase firearms illegally.

“There are those people out there every day who will have no regard for you, no regard for the law,” said Ralph Demicco, owner of Riley’s Sport Shop in Hooksett. “As a firearms dealer, I could stand to make quite a bit of money on this law. I think it’s wrong. And this committee should really consider the impact of what you’re looking at.”

Others, speaking out during a more than four-hour hearing, criticized the bill’s regulation of transferring guns between friends or acquaintances.

“It’s an outrageous bill,” said Jack Kimball, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “The right for the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. . . . This bill will do only one thing: It will turn thousands of law-abiding New Hampshire citizens into felons.”

The bill’s exceptions for temporarily transferring firearms include transfers for self-defense, between spouses, at registered firearm competitions or shooting ranges and to minors for hunting or education under the supervision of an adult.

Sen. David Pierce, an Etna Democrat, said the bill would prevent the state from maintaining a registry of gun owners based on the background checks.

“It is the common sense that has long been missing from our gun laws,” Pierce said. “It simply requires a background check for every firearm sale.”

Eileen Landies, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, said the legislation infringes on the right to own property. She is also a member of Second Amendment Sisters, a group that holds monthly female-only gun shoots. She said women come to learn about self-defense in a safe environment, and the events are often held on private property instead of shooting ranges.

“So this gives them the opportunity to try weapons, but it would be a felony for me to allow someone else try one of my guns under this piece of legislation, that’s the issue,” Landies said.

The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee will make a recommendation on the bill before it goes to the full House. If it passes, it will go to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and must pass the full House a second time before it is sent to the Senate.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)


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