Our Turn: The tide is turning for gun violence prevention

Published: 9/17/2019 8:00:23 AM

The “good news” regarding gun violence in the United States is that the majority of the American public is both aware of the enormity of the problem and increasingly demanding that our legislators and president do what is necessary to curtail this incredible epidemic.

Recent polls indicate that about 90% of Americans support universal background checks so individuals restricted from owning guns are unable to purchase guns. A recent NPR/Marist survey found strong support also for red-flag laws (72%) and a ban on high-capacity magazines (61%). Vast majorities of the public clearly support efforts to curtail gun violence.

The “bad news” is that so many politicians continue to take their marching orders from the NRA and gun rights enthusiasts, opposing common-sense efforts to curtail this epidemic of gun violence.

Organized medicine is part of the movement for sensible gun violence prevention. We are involved because we experience the devastation of gun violence in our emergency rooms, our hospitals and our medical offices. As we’ve said countless times, we are “the last lane” in the treating of the victims of gun violence, and our voices clamor for appropriate steps to reduce the scourge of gun violence in our country.

We know this is a public health emergency. More than 75 national medical groups have endorsed common-sense gun bills, including the American Medical Association. Indeed, the New Hampshire Medical Society has led the way in supporting many gun violence prevention efforts, including the three pieces of gun violence legislation passed by the New Hampshire Legislature this session.

The three pieces of legislation are House bills 109, 514 and 564. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed all of them, which has led to the possibility of an override vote this week in the Legislature.

Gov. Sununu’s explanations for his vetoes echo the talking points we always hear from the NRA and gun-rights activists. For example, they always state that “guns don’t kill people, people do” even though it is so clear that it’s people with guns who do the shooting, either to themselves (approximately 22,000 suicides with guns in the United States last year) or to others (approximately 14,000 homicides with guns last year). They also point to the problem being a mental health problem, trying to move the responsibility to the mental health care system and away from the weapons.

These time-worn explanations just don’t cut it. These three important public safety bills that were passed by the N.H. Legislature are crucial to the ongoing effort in our state to have an impact on this horrendous epidemic of gun violence.

HB 109 expands the background check system in New Hampshire to all gun sales, as currently private sales and internet sales are not subject to the background check system. Our state government should do whatever it can to reduce the incidence of gun-related homicide and suicide in our state. Indeed, guns purchased in our state often show up in criminal cases in neighboring states.

So it’s important for all states to restrict gun sales to individuals who are not listed in the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) so guns illegally purchased in one state are not involved in violence in other states. There is simply no rational reason to oppose this bill.

HB 514 imposes a waiting period of three days between purchase and delivery of a firearm. The reason this bill would be helpful in preventing some gun violence is that suicide and domestic violence are often impulsive acts, and imposing a waiting period would likely prevent some gun-related deaths. Imposing such a limited waiting period does not seem unreasonable if we can save lives and prevent the tragedy experienced by family and friends of victims.

HB 564 provides for gun-free zones around schools in New Hampshire. It is clear that kids are being increasingly traumatized by mass shootings. Given the prevalence of gun violence in schools across our country, isn’t it simply common sense to keep guns out of N.H. schools?

Allowing guns (with exceptions for law enforcement) on school property is too provocative and dangerous to be reasonable. We keep guns out of hospitals and airports; we need to do what we can to provide safety in our schools as well.

This week, the N.H. House and Senate will be voting to override Gov. Sununu’s vetoes of these gun violence prevention bills. Please join the New Hampshire Medical Society, the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AMA and the vast majority of the American people in encouraging our legislators to vote to override those vetoes.

It has been shown that states that have tighter gun laws do have less gun violence. We need to do what we can in New Hampshire to reduce gun violence in our state. Ask your legislators to be responsive to the wishes of the people on these crucial issues. We need gun safety, and legislators who support safety more than they support the NRA. It’s that simple, and it is about time.

(Drs. Leonard Korn and Gary Sobelson are members of the executive council of the New Hampshire Medical Society, and wrote this op-ed in support of the policies of the New Hampshire Medical Society and its 2,000 physician members.)

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