CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The parents of two young boys killed during the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut urged New Hampshire lawmakers Tuesday to pass legislation expanding gun background checks to include private sales.
Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, died in the December 2012 mass shooting, told legislators that the horrible pain Sandy Hook families are experiencing from gun violence could easily happen in New Hampshire. She said background checks didn’t save her son’s life, but government must explore sensible solutions to stopping gun violence.
“This law would not have stopped the deranged young man who murdered my son, but it will save someone else’s son, daughter, sister, brother, father or mother,” she told the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee.
Her son was among 20 children shot to death, along with six educators, at the school in December 2012 before the gunman killed himself.
The bill would require background checks for gun sales and transfers whether at gun shows or online. Private sellers would be required to conduct background checks through federally licensed dealers using a system already in place in all dealer sales. The penalty for breaking the law would be a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Exemptions included transfers among immediate family members, law enforcement and temporary sharing at a gun range or while hunting.
Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting rampage, said that when he was considering coming to New Hampshire, he knew Daniel would want him to fight for passage of the legislation to close a loophole in New Hampshire’s law.
“Having a background check accompany only some sales is like fixing only part of the hole in the boat,” he said.
But a bill sponsor acknowledged that while the proposal would expand background checks to private sales, it would not close another loophole and require New Hampshire to report the names of people judged mentally ill to the government to be part of the background check system.
Federal law bars people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or declared mentally ill by a judge from legally buying guns from licensed dealers. More than 30 states report names of people judged mentally ill to the government, but New Hampshire is not one of them. The legislation could only alert a dealer if someone was in the federal background check system due to a report from another state.
The federal law also bars gun purchases by felons, fugitives, drug addicts, people under domestic violence retraining orders and convicted of certain misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.
Rep. Elaine Andrews-Ahearn, the prime sponsor, said background checks have proven to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
“Fewer guns in the hands of dangerous people means that maybe, just maybe, fewer people will be shot,” said Andrews-Ahearn, D-Hampton Falls.
But bill critics said criminals would simply sidestep the law to get guns.
Ralph Demicco, owner of Riley’s Gun Shop in Hooksett, said state law already requires people selling a gun privately to know the buyer.
“Do you actually suppose someone intent on committing mayhem will go through a background check or seek a firearm someplace else?” he said.