This past weekend’s mass shootings in Ohio and Texas — on the heels of another in Gilroy, Calif., last week — demand a response, both nationally and in the Granite State.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, they were the 250th and 251st mass shootings in 2019. But we’ve become so inured to the news of multiple murders committed with guns that most people have heard of only a few of those.
The massacre Saturday in El Paso, Texas, in which 22 were killed and 24 injured, and in Dayton, Ohio, where 10 died and 26 were injured, were particularly damning for those NRA apologists who argue against full background checks and red-flag laws.
The El Paso shooter, armed with an AK-47-style assault rifle and extra magazines, started shooting in the parking lot of a Walmart before continuing into the store. After surrendering, the shooter reportedly told police he had wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as he could. Shortly before the attack, he had posted, on the website 8chan, a manifesto rife with white supremacist and anti-immigrant language. It referred to themes such as “The Great Replacement,” a white supremacist theory frequently aimed at Jews and immigrants.
In Dayton, the suspect was known to have a fascination with mass shootings and had previously produced hit lists and made violent threats. He opened fire outside a bar early Sunday, also with an AK-47-style weapon and extra magazines. Among his victims was his younger sister. One woman who dated him literally said to NBC News that his fixation with an ex-girlfriend was “the final red flag.”
Polls indicate 97 percent of Americans — including the vast majority of NRA members and other gun owners — favor background checks for all gun purchases. But when gun deaths make national headlines, which only seems to occur if the crime is so beyond the pale that it outrages most Americans, many politicians either attempt to shift the discussion — it’s not about guns; it’s about mental health/extremism/domestic violence — or cynically claim “it’s too soon” to talk about solving gun violence, as if it’s ever not too close to a gun tragedy of some sort.
Both of those responses have already been tossed about this week. By far, the more dangerous of the two is the blame-shifting. Yes, the apparent white-supremacist extremism of the El Paso shooter is important to address, but that effort cannot be used to distract us from the fact that these shooters should never have had access to weapons capable of killing or wounding dozens in mere moments. It’s not a case of one or the other; we can both address gun laws and fight extremist views.
And on the topic of racism and extremism: President Donald Trump, who many people blame for stoking the kind of hatred that apparently motivated the El Paso shooter, said Monday such rhetoric cannot be tolerated. That might seem rich, considering the source, but at least he outlined steps toward that goal. Among them, he said people who are found “to pose a grave risk to public safety” should not be allowed to buy guns, and that officials should be able to take away any guns “through rapid due process,” according to the McClatchy News Service.
He’s not alone in rethinking red-flag and background check laws.
In the aftermath of the Dayton shootings, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced proposals Tuesday to increase gun background checks and pass a “red-flag” law allowing the court-ordered removal of guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
A red-flag law proposed in New Hampshire this session, authored largely by former Keene police officer John Stewart and former Rep. Delmar Burridge, was retained in March by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. That means it may come up again in the fall. It’s worthy of support, and if brought forth, ought to get consideration by the Legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu.
The governor also ought to follow the lead of his fellow Republican governor on background checks and two other gun-safety bills that were put before him in recent days. House Bill 109 would expand background checks to all commercial sales. HB 514 would mandate a three-day waiting period on firearms purchases. And HB 564 would ban guns in school zones.
None of these ought to be a controversial or political issue. Yet it appears they are. All three were fought by Republican lawmakers, though they made it to the governor’s desk.
In the wake of the weekend’s shootings, Sununu issued a statement, steadfastly ignoring the topic of guns, and instead raising mental health and white supremacy as the issues to be addressed. He said in New Hampshire, “… we are taking major steps to ensure the safety of our citizens is paramount.”
The Legislature is, anyway. Now it’s Sununu’s turn to meet the actual threat — unfettered access to firearms — head-on. If he refuses, that responsibility reverts to lawmakers, who ought to override any veto of these three sensible bills.