New Hampshire's Silent Gun Debate

Maybe, after such a tragedy, no one knows what to say



Illustration by Peter Noonan

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December a political conversation began about what could be done to prevent future tragedies. On the national level Vice President Joe Biden convened a panel of experts on all sides to come up with some gun control legislation. Senators drafted their own bills. The National Rifle Association offered that we simply need more good guys with guns to stop the bad guys.

Some states didn't wait for the federal government to have their own conversations. Less than a month after Newtown, New York State banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Illinois is considering doing the same thing. California is looking less at guns than at ammunition, possibly requiring a background check to buy bullets. Colorado's governor reserved his pro-gun stance after Newtown and is now considering a number of measures. The Wyoming legislature went the other way by proposing to ban federal enforcement of gun laws.

While some states are fully engaged in the conversation, no such discussions are taking place in New Hampshire. Since Newtown, the only real debate over the Second Amendment is about issues that really have nothing to do with the Second Amendment. The reason is simple: In live-free-or-die New Hampshire, the gun debate has been long settled. Guns won.

Just consider the post-Newtown debates we actually had. The first was whether or not guns would be allowed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The idea was inserted, alongside other rules, as part of the second day of the new House session. The debate took an entire afternoon. Again, the rule would only apply to the House chamber and visitor's galley and not even the Senate nor the rest of the Statehouse. And since there aren't metal detectors at the Statehouse, there is really no way of enforcing the rule. It passed.

"In live-free-or-die New Hampshire, the gun debate has been long settled. Guns won."

A few weeks later hundreds of pro-gun activists showed up at the capitol. They were upset about a bill that would repeal a new self-defense law known as "Stand Your Ground," but even it was not a law designed to prevent another mass tragedy.

This legislative session nine bills have been introduced that somehow relate to guns. Some increase gun control and some loosen it. Most will have no chance of going anywhere.

In the current landscape of New Hampshire politics there is little incentive to act on anything involving guns. Like opposing an income tax, the Republican Party is basically totally against anything involving gun control and over the decades has given New Hampshire some of the weakest gun laws in the country. Also, just like proposals for an income tax, Democrats don't have a unified position on gun control, and past history is littered with local Democrats who pushed too hard on gun control. Many believe that Democratic Congressman Dick Swett lost his re-election in 1994 because he voted for the national assault weapons ban.

Until Newtown, Democrats nationally hadn't talked seriously about guns for more than a decade. In New Hampshire they still aren't.

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