A group of Portsmouth area gun violence prevention experts agree that one of the best ways New Hampshire and the nation can reduce mass shootings is to embrace universal background checks, but it has been and will continue to be tough sell here in the Granite State.
Cathie Whittenburg, regional coordinator of States United to Prevent Gun Violence; Burt Cohen, a former State Senator from New Castle; and Lisa Bellanti, Attorney from Portsmouth participated in a 90-minute forum to help Portsmouth area residents understand the challenges that lie ahead. The forum was moderated by Judy Stadtman of Portsmouth and was hosted by the Portsmouth Democratic Committee at the Portsmouth Public Library.
Whitteburg said that while states such as New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Colorado have passed tougher gun laws that include limits on ammunition magazines, universal background checks and more intense assault weapons bans, New Hampshire and Maine have not.
"New Hampshire has very weak laws," she said.
New Hampshire is ranked 24rth in the nation for gun trafficking and third for time to crime, or from the time a gun was sold to the time when a crime was committed. Maine is number two, she said.
She believes that criminals will go to New Hampshire and Maine to get guns and ammunition if they can’t get them in other New England states or New York.
Cohen said lawmakers have to make the gun owners understand they will not lose anything and their freedoms will be protected, “but with rights come responsibilities.”
“We cannot treat gun owners as the enemy. That is a big mistake. If we treat gun owners as the enemy, we lose,” Cohen said.
He said lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and in Concord are influenced more by intense minorities. “We need to convince gun owners we are not their enemy,” he said.
The gun violence prevention forum was held just four months after the , that left 27 schoolchildren, teachers and administrators dead. It also comes a year after the Greenland police shootings occurred on April 12, 2012, that claimed the life of Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney and left four police officers wounded during a drug raid in that community.
In Washington, D.C., the Huffington Post reported Wednesday bipartisan support for tighter universal background checks and restrictions on gun trafficking was gaining support in the Senate.
But while the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., have proven to be a game changer in some states, the panel's members said it has yet to be seen what impact, if any, it will have in New Hampshire.
Attorney Lisa Bellanti of Portsmouth said the debate has to include the mentally ill. “I’m here because after the Newtown shooting I saw a very scary thing. I saw mental health being scape goated,” she said.
Even with the existing federal ban on selling fire arms to people who have been deemed mentally defective, she said there are plenty of mentally ill people who can obtain guns through private sales or inheritances. She said she is also seeing more people go firearms trusts so they can keep their guns private.
Given the fact that several of the most recent mass shootings that have happened across the country were committed by people who were mentally ill, Bellanti said, "We need to address mental health."