My Turn: Have enough people died yet?

For the Monitor
Published: 5/23/2019 12:25:24 AM

Is it enough yet? I asked this question after the massacre of first-graders and their teachers at Sandy Hook, and the answer came back, “No, not enough children have died.”

I asked this question after the massacres of concert- and nightclub-goers in Las Vegas and Orlando, and the answer came back, “No, not enough people have died.”

I asked this question after the massacres of high school students in Parkland, and the answer came back, “No, not enough students have died.”

I ask this question now, after nearly 40,000 Americans died from firearms last year, as suicide by firearm ranks as the second leading cause of death for young people in New Hampshire, after more Americans have died in this country by firearms since 1968 than have died in all the wars from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan put together. Is it enough, and will we finally do something about it?

The New Hampshire Senate has a chance to answer this question today when it considers three commonsense gun violence prevention measures: House Bill 109, closing loopholes in the commercial background check system; HB 514, creating a waiting period between purchase and delivery of a firearm; and HB 564, clarifying state law to make plain that, with certain exceptions, people should not bring guns into schools.

These three measures represent reasonable qualifications to buying or owning a firearm that enjoy almost unparalleled support from the public.

For example, in New Hampshire, approximately 90% of the public supports background checks. How often do you see 90% of the public agreeing on anything?

Yet still the gun lobby resists. Its members fight against every gun violence prevention measure put forward, arguing that their right to possess all kinds of guns all the time, everywhere and in every manner, is superior to our and our children’s right to come home alive at the end of the day. They wave the Second Amendment as though it were a flag, flying independent of and towering over the rest of the Constitution. They tell us after every massacre, every innocent loss of life, every drop of blood pushed from a human body by a bullet, that the solution is more guns.

They do this even as we look around the world and see with our own eyes that we are the only developed country that worships our guns as we do, and we are the only developed country that permits the killings to continue as we do – by the tens of thousands every year. They tell us that what we can see with our own eyes is not really happening.

And the slaughter goes on.

For all of what I have said above, I do recognize that we are different. We have an ingrained hunting culture. We have a tradition of personal protection. But we can recognize these things and allow them to continue without falsely representing that our federal and state constitutions mean that we must sit by and allow the epidemic of gun violence to continue.

We can close loopholes in our background check system to prevent people who are prohibited from owning firearms from getting them.

We can create a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm so that, first, people have a chance to live past the impulsivity that often accompanies gun violence; and second, gun dealers have sufficient time to run background checks.

We can make it possible for local and state law enforcement to enforce gun-free schools and say no to turning our schools into armed battlefields, our teachers into soldiers and our children into trauma victims.

Will these bills stop every death by gun? Of course not. But it’s foolish to refuse to implement measures that will stop much gun violence because they won’t stop all gun violence.

For those concerned about overreach, here is another thing these bills won’t do: They won’t take anyone’s guns away. They won’t prevent any “law-abiding gun owner” from buying a gun. They will place a small inconvenience on some gun purchasers. But the other side of that inconvenience is the preservation of people’s lives.

Ultimately, this is the question: Are we willing to let the carnage continue? Because we must recognize that this gun violence epidemic is a voluntary one. This isn’t just a matter of massacres, although those are particularly horrifying. It’s also the domestic violence cases that turn deadly, the youth suicides, the veterans who lose hope. It’s every individual who perishes via the barrel of a gun. As long as we do nothing, we must recognize that our silence is assent.

Now, here, this week, let’s do something about it. Let the Senate pass these three bills to begin to curb gun violence.

Let us say, finally, that it is enough.

(Tracy Hahn-Burkett of Bow is convener of the working group on gun violence prevention for the Kent Street Coalition.)


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