Keeping bad guys from guns

"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," according to NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre just after the Sandy Hook massacre. If a "bad guy" pulls out a gun and starts shooting, the only answer, according to Mr. LaPierre, is for someone to pull out another gun and take the "bad guy" out.

The NRA and the Republican Party advocate what they call "Constitutional carry" – allowing anyone to carry a gun, openly or concealed, at any time and anywhere – excluding, one presumes, people with felony convictions. Republicans all over the country are attacking background checks, gun-free zones and laws that require a permit to carry a loaded, concealed weapon.

The Democratic Party approach is different; it focuses on preventing people likely to misuse guns from getting them in the first place. The background check law has stopped over 1.5 million "bad guys" from buying guns since 1994. That law passed after a Republican filibuster failed.

Unfortunately, our background check system has a couple of glaring loopholes. It does not cover sales of guns by unlicensed sellers at gun shows or sales between private parties, so any "bad guy" who wants to buy a gun has an easy workaround.

Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts by Democrats to require a background check for all gun sales. Republicans seem to value easy access to guns over a system that would keep guns out of the hands of felons and people with severe mental disabilities.

This is not about constitutional rights. Background checks and concealed carry permits are constitutional. In the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, explained that the right to bear arms is limited: It is not "a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." Justice Scalia specifically referenced prior court decisions that upheld restrictions or bans on carrying concealed, loaded weapons.

New Hampshire requires a permit to carry a loaded, concealed weapon in a car or on your person. The permits are issued by the chiefs of police in each city and town. This system has been in place for nearly 100 years.

The New Hampshire Senate has passed Senate Bill 12, which eliminates the requirement that an applicant for a concealed carry permit be "a suitable person to be licensed." All 10 Democratic senators voted no. The effect of this change is to remove the discretion of chiefs of police to deny permits.

Republicans talk about law and order; they should trust the chiefs of police to exercise good judgment in determining who should be allowed to carry a loaded, concealed weapon.

If Senate Bill 12 passes, everyone – except convicted felons – will be allowed to carry a concealed weapon. This includes people whom a chief of police, under current law, could determine is unsuitable for a concealed carry permit, such as a person who has a history of getting drunk in bars and picking fights; a person who has threatened someone with a gun in the past, though never convicted of a felony; a person who has been involved in road rage incidents or a person who has been the subject of multiple domestic violence calls to 911.

Under current law, if a person has committed an act of violence below the felony level, it is legal for that person to have a gun at home. But if that person wants to carry a loaded concealed weapon in public, we have a higher standard implemented by our chiefs of police. This is what Republicans and the NRA want to abolish.

The House will vote on Senate Bill 12 on Thursday, Feb. 9. The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police has spoken out against Senate Bill 12. Please add your voice. Seek out your representatives and ask these questions: Should a known drug addict be allowed to carry a loaded concealed weapon? How about the man who punched his neighbor during an argument? Or the woman who has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, and sometimes fails to take her meds?

If Republicans get their way, almost anybody could be armed – even people with violent histories. And our only defense, in that Republican world, will be to avoid the first shot and try to return fire.

Mark Fernald is a former state senator and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for governor. He can be reached at mark@markfernald.com.