There’s a family fight brewing up in New Hampshire and like many inter-family fights, this one is getting nasty. At issue is SB 244, a proposed bill in the state senate that would require people with court-determined mental illness to be added to the NICS system as ineligible to purchase a gun from a FFL. Specifically people who fall into the one of the following categories would have their gun purchase rights suspended . . .
- Found incompetent to stand trial
- Found not guilty by reason of insanity
- Having a court-appointed guardian
- Involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
I chose the word, “suspended” very carefully because the proposed legislation also has a proscribed and unambiguous procedure by which a person can have their name removed from NICS once their mental health has improved. Today, there is no practical way to do that as people like James Bryant, a NH resident found out when he suffered a mental breakdown a few years ago and has since been fighting to restore his gun rights.
While the proposed law appears to be carefully constructed with very specifically defined criteria, some advocates already see potential pitfalls. Michael Skibbie of the Disability Rights Center noted that lawmakers should rethink the list of qualifiers. Examples he raised is the shoplifter found incompetent to stand trial or the bankrupt person who gets a court-appointed financial guardian; neither of which would qualify as a “dangerous” person. State Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown goes even further suggesting that the bill is the start of a movement to disarm the United States, as was done in Australia and England. “This bill will lead to that, I have no doubt,” he said.
What makes this little battle somewhat unusual is the way this proposed bill is playing out with various gun rights organizations. Gun Owners of NH (GO-NH) is the state NRA affiliate organization. Pro-Gun New Hampshire is one of the state’s ‘independent’ gun rights organizations and is often seen criticizing the NRA and GO-NH for caving in on gun rights issues. Finally, there is the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, which bills itself as the state’s “only NO-COMPROMISE gun rights organization.” Predictably, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition is against SB 244 as it is against any infringement of any kind. GO-NH is also opposed to the measure which is surprising given the fact that the NSSF and the NRA-ILA are in favor of the bill. Most surprising however, is that Pro-Gun New Hampshire has taken a position in favor of this legislation.
The national Gun Owners of America (GOA) group has also waded into the morass. There has been a good deal of nastiness between Pro-Gun NH and GOA with Pro-Gun NH responding to an email blast from GOA that they claim is full of misleading information about SB-44. It’s worth taking a few minutes to read GOA’s blast and Pro-Gun NH’s response.
Who’s right? That depends on your own personal position on firearms regulation. Those who believe that any infringement is unconstitutional will oppose this and other bills like it. Those who have chosen to accept that regulation of firearms is an unsavory, but unavoidable fact of life will likely take a close look at this bill and see if it offers any real gains in exchange for the new limitations it imposes.
In my mind, the more interesting story is the disagreement between passionate second amendment supporters over this issue. Even more interesting is that both sides appear to be using the tools of the anti-gun lobby – misinformation, misunderstanding, and mischaracterization of the opposing position to further their arguments with their respective constituencies.
It brings to mind one of Benjamin Franklin’s famous sayings – “We must all hang together or we will surely hang separately.” I, for one hope that the various gun rights organizations can settle their differences and figure out a way to work together. Otherwise, the gun rights movement might splinter the way the Republican Party has and we will be left with a weaker bulwark for our rights.
It will be an interesting fight to watch.