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Another guest post, of sorts: the response that I got from US Senator Kelly Ayotte to my letter. The Op-Ed she references was in the Concord Monitor, and reprinted in several local outlets; it does not say much more than she said below. 

 

Thank you for contacting me regarding the recent debate on the Senate floor about preventing gun violence in our country.  I appreciate hearing from you.

Regardless of false attacks you may have seen, I support effective criminal background checks.  Having spent my career prosecuting violent criminals and serving for five years as New Hampshire’s attorney general, I am deeply committed to preventing violence.  From my experience working with law enforcement officials and prosecutors, I know how important it is to have laws that work and to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

The Manchin-Toomey legislation would have expanded the current background check system – a broken system that the government is not fully enforcing.  For example, in 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was referred 76,412 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denials, about two-thirds of which were based on the applicant being a felon or fugitive from justice.  Of those, charges were brought in only 44 cases – and resulted in just 13 successful prosecutions.

Even if the current background check system was expanded, it’s important to note that a May 2013 Department of Justice report found that less than one percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained the firearm at a gun show, and only about 10 percent of state prison inmates obtained their firearm from a licensed firearm dealer.  In many cases, criminals find alternate methods to obtain firearms.  In fact, 40 percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained their firearm from an illegal source such as through a drug deal, theft, or the black market, and that is why we need rigorous prosecution of gun-related crimes.

In my view, we shouldn’t be expanding a flawed system.  We should focus on fixing the broken system and fully enforcing the law.  That is why I voted for legislation, that had bipartisan support, to fix the current background check system.  The Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act would have strengthened the background check system, addressed mental health gaps, boosted resources to improve school safety, criminalized gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and increased prosecutions of gun-related violence.

Given the connection between mental illness and the horrific tragedies at Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, I also cosponsored and voted for the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act.  This bipartisan measure includes provisions of legislation I helped introduce that seek to improve mental health first aid training and increase the effectiveness of mental health care across the nation.  This amendment passed the Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 95 to 2.

I understand and appreciate that New Hampshire citizens have strong and diverse views on how to prevent gun violence, but we all share a common desire to prevent tragedies like the one that occurred in Newtown.  I hope you’ll take the time to read my attached op-ed, which further explains how I voted and why.

Please be assured that I will continue my efforts to prevent violence, enforce and improve our broken background check system, strengthen mental health services, and increase school safety – while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me.  As your Senator, it is important for me to hear from you regarding the current issues affecting New Hampshire and our nation.  Please do not hesitate to be in touch again if I may be of further assistance.

Sincerely,
Signature
Kelly A. Ayotte
U. S. Senator

 

At first glance, this is a simple bait-and-switch; a semantic tangle in which she tries to make herself look better.  A few things jump out, however:

1) expanding mental health services, while necessary for this and so very many other reasons, is not by any means a reason to vote against background checks.  To try to turn the entire conversation onto that one topic is to actually do a disservice to most Americans who are dealing with mental health issues: it equates those issues with violence, which is totally fallacious in most cases.  But it does distract from the conversation about gun legislation.

2) the legislation which she references, that would “fix” the “broken” system, would not have required background check expansion or closed any of the existing loopholes.  It tried to turn the conversation to mental health again, allocated resources to put armed guards in schools (like Columbine had), and reiterated that it is illegal to possess and illegally-obtained gun.  It had the full backing of the NRA.

3) It is disingenuous to suggest that requiring background checks for all gun purchases, and enforcing that law, would not fix the problem this country has with gun violence.  No one has ever said that it would.  No one solution is going to do that.  That does not mean that we should not do all the little things that are going to bring the number of gun-related deaths down. 

4) at least, in these responses, Senator Ayotte did not call upon the argument that she has often deployed in local Town Hall meetings; of fear mongering and suggesting that Manchin-Toomey would create a national registry of gun owners.  That is a blatant lie, as the legislation was specifically written to do just the opposite.  It seems that she, at least, was smart enough not to let those lies go into print.

Led by our various media, the American public has a strange and puzzling relationship with grief.  in recent months our embassy in Benghazi suffered attack, with 4 Amerians killed.  Tucson, Aurora, Newtown all gave us reason to grieve the needless deaths of innocent adults and children, all just doing their jobs, or doing what leisure activity they had every right to do.  The Boston Marathon ended in crazy, senseless violence, killing three outright, maiming so many more, and then later adding another death and another serious injury to the toll.  A fertilizer factory in Texas, holding many times more ammonium nitrate than was legal, blew up, and 14 are dead, homes destroyed, nearby property laid waste.  A factory in Bangladesh, producing clothing for American retail brands, collapsed.  The toll so far, tops 300 dead, many more trapped and/or injured.

Led by those media, we’ve been urged to focus on the “otherness” of killers.  Benghazi was a political uprising, for which we should have been prepared, and were not.  Yes… but so was the Cole.  So, for that matter, was Pearl Harbour.  The Boston Bombers were Chechen born, children of Russian political immigres given sanctuary in America.  Public sentiment would have us believe that somehow a 15 yr. old and and 8 yr. old should have been singled out as politically dangerous, and denied asylum with their parents.  They too are “the other”.

Tucson, Aurora, Newtown.  Those killers had mental problems.  Those killers were somehow enabled by their families, somehow allowed to have guns, but tighter controls on gun buying would not have stopped them.  Tighter controlls on the number of rounds they could fire without reloading – oh, heck, it wouldn’t have saved very many lives!  And because they had mental health issues, they too are “other”.  They are not like us.  They are not like the Americans we meet at school, at church, in the workplace.  We do not work for them, nor they for us.  They are “other”.

But then comes Texas.  It’s easy enough to say that OSHA was at fault for not inspecting that plant for 18 years.  Yes, 18 years.  That is three administrations, of both parties.  It is shameful, but not so shameful as the simple fact that the owners and managers of that plant knew what OSHA requires, and knew they were not in compliance.  Only blocks from an elementary school, they were not in compliance, and did nothing to change that.  They knew there was danger.  Ten of the dead were volunteer fire fighters who responded to the blast.  Volunteer, because that’s the way Texas builds their booming economy.  Volunteers who probably could have done with more training, more protective equipment, but being brave, loyal, believing in their charge to protect, they ran into the fire anyway.  May they rest in peace.  They were not “other”.

And then comes Bangladesh.  Not about us?  Oh, yes, it is.  That particular factory made clothing ONLY  for American brands.  It was not owned by them, but they sanctioned the practices the owners mandated, and accepted the lack of inspection, of meaningful building codes.  That building had cracks, had flaws, had fissures big enough to alarm anyone… but workers were lured back, and they died.  Workers, simple people like you and me.  Parents, husbands, wives, siblings… not white, not American, but surely not “other”.

Political unrest abroad gets press.  Mentally ill killers get press.  They both also get excuses, and the focus goes on 20/20 hindsight.  American money, American greed kills many more, and no blame is assigned, except to government agencies who “should have seen this coming”.  I’m pointing out American greed, American investment here.  To go further afield in the same realm, how about BP in the Gulf?  They knew the dispersants were unsafe, and used them anyway.  How many deaths, how many illnesses?

There are no “others”.  If we are all the children of God, then we are also the children of Allah, of Krishna, of Jahweh, of Buddha, and to quote the late Arthur Miller, “attention must be paid!”    I lived most of my adult life near Boston, and yes, I am partisan, yes I am angry, yes, I wear that Red Sox shirt proudly… but if I had a shirt for West, Texas, or for Bangladesh, I’d wear that too, because “All God’s Creatures Gotta Place in the Choir” and they all deserved to live long enough to sing.