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Thursday, January 17, 2013

President’s gun plans raise questions across N.H.

The applause that President Barack Obama drew Wednesday as he unveiled plans to address gun violence across the country didn’t carry to New Hampshire, where gun owners and public safety officers alike questioned the effect of the president’s proposals.

Obama, speaking at a White House press conference, presented a series of recommendations, proposing to ban assault weapons, restrict high-capacity magazines and expand background checks, among other policies to strengthen the nation’s gun laws in response to last month’s tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn. ...

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The applause that President Barack Obama drew Wednesday as he unveiled plans to address gun violence across the country didn’t carry to New Hampshire, where gun owners and public safety officers alike questioned the effect of the president’s proposals.

Obama, speaking at a White House press conference, presented a series of recommendations, proposing to ban assault weapons, restrict high-capacity magazines and expand background checks, among other policies to strengthen the nation’s gun laws in response to last month’s tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“We can’t put this off any longer,”
the president told guests gathered at the White House, including relatives of several Newtown victims.

“If there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence ... then we have an obligation to try it,” he said. “And I’m going to do my part.”

But in the hours after the speech, the proposals drew fire from gun owners and public safety officials across New Hampshire, who questioned the true impact of the president’s plans.

The recommendations, especially the proposal to expand background checks, may have some effect, as well as closing the gun-show loophole that allows customers to acquire firearms through private sales without background checks, among other provisions, law enforcement officials said.

“The initial focus needs to be on what else can we do to keep any weapon ... out of the hands of either the mentally ill or people that should not have a weapon,” said Nashua Police Chief John Seusing. “A more thorough background check could certainly be a start.”

But looking forward, the proposals, which will move on to Congress, could have an even deeper impact on law-abiding citizens, restricting their ability to defend themselves and their families, gun rights supporters said.

“This is a feel-good legislation. It solves nothing,” said Mitch Kopacz, president of Gun Owners of New Hampshire, a statewide firearms group.

“Honestly, it’s not going to save any lives,” added Nicholas D’Augustine, owner of Milford Firearms. “You’re just taking honest people and making them subject to certain laws that don’t have any bearing on criminals. ... That’s all you’re doing.”

From a business perspective, the proposals will likely provide a short-term boost for local gun shops, owners said this week.

Across the state, sales have been up notably since politicians began talking about gun control laws in the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and they will likely rise even more sharply as the president’s proposals move through Congress.

“For someone who wants to limit guns, he’s just doing the opposite,” D’Augustine said. “Every time he speaks, he sends people running out to get guns.”

But over the long run, the moves would hit business hard, shop owners said.

Renewing the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in the mid-2000s, would apply not only to semi-automatic rifles, but also to other guns with higher-capacity magazines, as well as the accessories connected to the guns, Bob Bell, owner of Lee’s Gun Shop II in Amherst, said earlier this winter.

“What they consider assault-type weapons would trickle down to all kinds of guns” he said. “It would take away a lot of my clientele.”

Looking further, Obama’s proposals do little to get to the root of the gun violence plaguing the country, law enforcement officers said.

The assault weapons ban, should it pass, would not address the guns already on the streets, said Merrimack Police Chief Mark Doyle.

“There are thousands of weapons already out there,” Doyle said. “There’s no real easy answer to that.”

And the president plans don’t address the issue of mental health, one of the prevailing factors contributing to gun violence, said Kensington Police Chief Michael Sielicki, incoming president of the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police.

Obama addressed mental health briefly toward the end of his speech, promising to launch a national conversation over the issue to be led by federal health and education officials. He also proposed to work to include mental health records in background checks.

“You hope this will have some effect. But a weapon without someone behind it isn’t dangerous. It all goes back to the individual,” Sielicki said Wednesday.

“You can’t look at (gun control) without looking at all the issues, mental health, court, law, weapons,” he said. “It’s a whole big issue, and you need to look at all of it.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (@Telegraph_JakeB).