It’s hard to talk about gun culture and not bring up New Hampshire in the process. New Hampshire has the most liberal gun laws in the country, and many gun shootings find their ties to New Hampshire in some way. The other side of this culture is the growing passion for target and sport shooting that seems to grow within families and friends. But when these gun enthusiasts meet with others who are completely out of the culture, the answer to understanding may come with filling in the loopholes. “New Hampshire is one of the most liberal states in the country when it comes to gun laws,” Commissioner of the N.H. Dept. of Corrections, William Wrenn said. “There are not many requirements when it comes to possessing a gun.”
As commissioner and with his 30 years of experience as the police chief of Hampton, N.H., Wrenn said that in New Hampshire, “I feel we try to strike a good balance between the Second Amendment arguments and the N.H. Constitution, which pretty much says the same thing, and the ability to keep society safe from those who shouldn’t have guns.” Although he agrees the process of acquiring a gun license could be stricter at times. With terms like license to carry, license to carry concealed, permit to carry, it’s hard to know what means what, and which states have what laws. Wrenn said that in New Hampshire a person needs a license to carry a handgun, not a permit. He also said individuals who wish to carry a loaded and concealed firearm will need a separate license. He said states like Massachusetts require that a citizen have a permit to possess a gun whether it’s concealed or not, loaded or not, no matter what.
In Vermont he said the state doesn’t require any type of license to carry concealed, not concealed, loaded, unloaded, it doesn’t matter. “You can carry a handgun that is not concealed or carry a handgun that is not loaded or have a loaded handgun in your house or place of business and not have a license to carry, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” Wrenn said.
When gun violence occurs, many individuals might consider restrictions or bans of certain types of guns, but Wrenn said there will still be gun violence with or without guns. “I don’t think that violence on our streets with guns is going to be impacted one way or another with our abilities to get a license of restrictions to the average person on what they can possess and when they can use those weapons,” he said. “I think that gun violence out there today is really a product of the fact that we have guns, period. If it wasn’t guns I really think it would be some other weapon.”
One thing Wrenn thinks might help the issue was to eliminate the gun show loophole for people looking to purchase a gun without having to go through a background check. As a former police chief, one of his jobs was to approve gun license applications and determine if a person is suitable or not suitable. “While it’s an ambiguous term [suitable] it’s broad enough for me as a former chief of police to see if this person is suitable to legally carry a gun concealed.”
The problem he thinks comes into play when the people he deems as not suitable go to the one place that won’t do a background check on them, a gun show.
“There are loopholes that allow people to basically set up a table in a building or under a tent or out in a field somewhere and put a whole bunch of guns on the table and sell them to people just walking up to the table, it’s dangerous, and is extremely wrong in our attempts to seek that balance between the right to own a gun under the Constitution, and the ability to keep the public safe,” Wrenn said. For many gun enthusiasts, it may be hard to know about these gun law loopholes when they are responsible and engrossed in the culture that is not geared towards violence. The President of the Peterborough Sportsman Club and gun sportsman, Neil Jeneral said shooting at a range is all about safety. “There’s families here shooting together,” Jeneral said. “There’s nothing warlike here. It’s a hand-me-down sport; we’re not wearing camo.”
Jeneral said that when someone like Adam Lanza causes a big shooting, “it makes us all look like idiots.” He said, “if non-shooters just came [to the range] here and see what we’re doing it would change their way of thinking. The paintball people scare me more than these people.” As far as the issue of the gun show loophole, Jeneral said he favors background checks. “I have never seen someone at a gun show not get a firearm without a background check,” Jeneral said. “All it takes is a 15 minute call to the police, to the FBI and you’re done.”
Although, he admits the issue of gun violence and gun safety is a very hard problem to solve. “I can’t argue against more education on safety and awareness…the risk is very high if you don’t handle them safely,” Jeneral said. Concerns about guns that he sees include, “the frenzy about ammo and the worry about guns being taken away.” Someone who understands the gun buying frenzy well is Terri Rousseau, the mother of Lauren Rousseau, who was one of the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary killed in the Dec. 14 shooting. She said at the same time that they [her family] were receiving loads of letters and support, she would go home every day and see people were rushing out to buy guns in case they would lose their ability to buy guns eventually. “That was very hard to see, and it’s continued. I see more and more people on the news going out to buy guns,” Rousseau said.
For someone who has spent most of his life shooting guns and 44 years selling guns, owner of Pelletiers Sports in Jaffrey, N.H. Bruce Pelletier said, that he didn’t notice a spike in gun sales after Newtown, but he sees the increases at other times. “Everytime you hear about a new anti-gun bill, the sales spike,” Pelletier said. “People are afraid they won’t be able to buy these semi-automatic, high capacity, assault weapons, so they’re going out and buying them now.”
In recent months, Pelletier said many of the people coming into his store to buy firearms are older people and for two reasons. “They want them for home defense and because they are afraid they might not be able to buy guns because of government restrictions.” Although government restrictions are a concern for Pelletier right now, he said that what may have pushed him to get into the firearms business is the fact that “New Hampshire is a very liberal state, has very little restrictions and it’s so easy to sell firearms,” Pelletier said. As Jeneral mentioned the 15 minute phone call for purchases, Pelletier concurred that for every gun purchase, he conducts at his store, he makes a brief phone call to the FBI so they can conduct a background check. From someone who is a part of the legal gun purchasing process, Pelletier said he thinks New Hampshire laws are strict enough.
Another gun enthusiast and sport shooter since age 12, competitive marksman, Mark Timney said it’s very important for people to understand how guns really function and the difference between gun types, so people with different gun knowledge can be understood. He agrees that media and politicians can confuse the public on what the different gun terms mean, and what’s legal and illegal. When looking at rifle with a fixed platform, versus a rifle with an adjustable platform (like an AR), one may look more dangerous than the other, but Timney said they both function the same. “One pull of the trigger results in one bullet being fired,” Timney said.
The only type of gun that could fire multiple bullets with only one pull of the trigger would be a machine gun as Timney said, which are illegal for civilians to own and are solely for the military. But when shooters are using semi-automatic rifles and are causing a mass shooting, Timney said the shooter could very quickly drop the empty magazine of bullets and reload the next magazine without much time for diversion.
Timney addressed shooting attacks where someone has stepped in and tried to do something, like the Tuscan shooting on January 2011. “The woman who tackled Gabby Gifford’s shooter was either lucky she jumped at the right time and didn’t get hurt or the shooter was slow and not very experienced,” Timney said.
With all this discussion of mass shootings comes the dissection of the guns that were used and some ironic intersections with N.H. According to several media sources, one of the guns Adam Lanza used in the Newtown shooting was a Sig Sauer pistol made in N.H. Also, Nancy Lanza’s N.H. gun roots and upbringing were often sited in discussing her interest in teaching her son to shoot. A recent development in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing as mentioned in numerous media reports was that the suspects purchased three pounds of black powder for the bombs from a New Hampshire fireworks outlet called Phantom Fireworks, in Seabrook, N.H. Another older connection to New Hampshire is from the 2010 Amy Bishop murder case at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where three people were killed and others wounded. According to the Boston Globe, the gun used in the murder was purchased in New Hampshire by an acquaintance for Amy Bishop’s husband to skirt around a waiting period where the couple lived in Massachusetts. As gun violence grows and gun sales increase, many parents would be interested to know that a New Hampshire company called BulletBlocker sells bulletproof backpacks that even feature Disney characters and the Avengers cartoons. According to the NY Daily News, BulletBlocker’s sale of bulletproof backpacks skyrocketed after the Newtown shootings. The backpacks sell anywhere from $175 to $235. The company also produces bulletproof purses and laptop bags as well. According to the Union Leader, Bill Barbin, the co-creator of the BulletBlocker Company with Joe Curran, created the company in New Hampshire, and it has since expanded into Massachusetts and other surrounding New England areas. The article states that after Newtown occurred, “the company sold over $10,000 of bulletproof products in less than a week.” After 30 years as a police chief, Wrenn said that most of the guns he dealt with were not purchased by license-carrying citizens. “At least from my experience, from what I’ve dealt with, the crimes and the robberies and the burglaries and things like that where somebody had a weapon, generally speaking those weapons were illegally obtained.”
And from his information on the laws and the loopholes, there are many ways to illegally obtain a gun. But these guns are not just instruments of violence; they are precision tools as Jeneral said. “There’s more levels to shooting than violence,” Jeneral said.
Lindsay Arceci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributing information from Eric Jedd