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.

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