My Turn: Safety over guns – when will we ever learn?

  • A student mourns the loss of her friend during a community vigil at Pine Trails Park on Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla., for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 5/7/2019 12:15:20 AM

In the past year I have sat through hours of testimony in support of common-sense gun violence prevention bills in the New Hampshire House and Senate. This is not a new experience for me as I have testified on similar bills in the past, although supporters of the NRA and their Republican allies overshadowed the appetite for change in those years.

However, we now know that the public wants to support efforts for reasonable gun laws.

For example, polls have shown approximately 90% support universal background checks so that we are able to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous felons, domestic abusers and other prohibited persons. The question remains as to whether currently elected officials will heed that call, or once again ignore the overriding concerns of citizens for public safety.

There are three bills that have passed the House and are being considered now in the Senate, and hopefully soon by our governor.

House Bill 109 expands the background check system in New Hampshire to include all commercial sales of firearms, so that the loopholes of the background check system in New Hampshire are eliminated.

HB 514 creates a waiting period of seven days between the purchase and the delivery of a firearm to the purchaser. The seven-day interval accomplishes two very important goals. First, it allows sufficient time for the background check system to render a determination as to whether the purchaser is qualified or prohibited to purchase a firearm. Second, it allows sufficient time to elapse so that an individual who might be inclined impulsively to harm themselves or others to have time to reflect and reconsider. Suicide in particular is often an impulsive act, so it is hoped that this legislation would help to reduce the alarming 129 firearm suicides that occurred in New Hampshire in 2017 (the latest year that statistics have been compiled by the CDC).

HB 564 provides for gun-free school zones for our elementary and secondary schools in New Hampshire. There can of course be no issue more important than the safety of the children in our state and country, for in our children are our hopes and aspirations for the future. They deserve a safe environment, and deserve our legislators and governor to provide such a safe environment for them.

HB 564 is crucial legislation that has to do with safety in our schools. At present guns are allowed in K-12 schools in New Hampshire (and in only two other states, Hawaii and Wyoming); additionally, eight states including New Hampshire allow persons with concealed carry permits to carry those guns in K-12 schools and grounds. In New Hampshire we do not permit guns on our college campuses, but not so for our public schools. Doesn’t quite make sense, does it? Although many schools in New Hampshire are spending money to harden entrances to schools, guns are still allowed and individuals with guns are permitted until there is cause to believe that there may be disruption or danger. Waiting for a threat to happen is way too late in the process of providing a safe environment for our kids. We need to change that with HB 564.

The Washington Post on March 14 reported on its extensive research in determining how many primary and secondary school kids have been exposed to gun violence during school hours since Columbine. (The federal government has of course been absent from such comprehensive analysis and gun violence research due to the Dickey Amendment put forward by NRA supporters in 1996 and maintained by such supporters since then.) The Post found that 143 children, educators and others were killed and 290 were physically injured by such school violence in the almost 20 years since Columbine.

Strikingly, they found that 223,000 children at 229 primary and secondary schools have been directly exposed to such gun-related violence, collateral damage as it were of such violence.

In 2018 alone there were 25 school shootings, the highest number during any year since 1999. When will we ever learn?

The issue of gun violence in our country is so alarming, matched only unfortunately by the resistance of so many to do anything about it. There were almost 40,000 firearm deaths in the United States in 2017, with approximately one-third homicides and two-thirds suicides. We are second only to Brazil in the world for gun-related deaths, with rates of gun-related deaths more than 25 times the average rates for similar Western democracies such as Great Britain.

The public health concerns of this epidemic of gun-related violence in the United States have compelled the attention and concern of the medical profession in our state and throughout the country. More than 75 medical and public health organizations including the New Hampshire Medical Society, the N.H. Academy of Family Practice, the N.H. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the AMA have encouraged adoption of reasonable gun violence prevention laws to reduce the alarming incidence of gun violence in our country.

We in the medical profession are of course tasked with treating those persons killed by such gun-related violence or those who survive with often lifelong injuries. We treat them in our emergency rooms, surgical suites, hospitals and offices. We are indeed the “last lane” in this expanding epidemic of gun violence in the United States. The horror we see all too frequently is now matched by our determination to encourage common-sense legislation in our states and federal government to begin to curtail this epidemic.

Recently, we’ve witnessed the horrendous shooting in New Zealand and the quick and potent response of that country and its prime minister to change permissive gun laws in one week to curtail the risk of such gun violence in the future. For far too long in our country we’ve seen important gun safety legislation blocked by Second Amendment and NRA enthusiasts in our state and all over the country as they sway legislators to choose guns over safety.

Please, we’ve had enough. We need safety over guns, and legislators who support safety over guns. It’s that simple, and it is indeed about time.

(Dr. Leonard Korn is the immediate past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society.)

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