To the editor:
As a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, I’ve carefully watched the debate in Washington about how to prevent mass violence in our country. Like all Americans, I want our schools, streets and neighborhoods to be safe.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is a mother of two young children, shares that priority. As our former state attorney general, she has worked tirelessly over the years to keep children safe and to prevent violence in New Hampshire. And as the Senate took up relevant legislation recently, she kept her focus right where it belonged: addressing gaps in the existing gun background check system while also strengthening the nation’s delivery of mental health services.
Simultaneously, she worked to preserve New Hampshire’s long tradition of responsible gun ownership. As debate in Washington progressed, she made it clear that abridging the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans would not stop a mentally ill person or a criminal from committing acts of violence.
Unfortunately, many in Washington wanted to use recent tragedies to pass new gun control measures that place additional restrictions on responsible gun owners. Instead of focusing on the real problem (keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals) some lawmakers wanted to expand the existing background check system.
Instead of expanding a broken background check system, Sen. Ayotte worked with her colleagues to introduce a bill that sought to improve that system. The legislation she worked on included provisions that would require federal courts to submit relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (”NICS”). Also, knowing that many states have done a poor job of sending relevant mental health records to NICS, the bill Ayotte supported took steps to get that information into the system. The bill she helped introduce also criminalized straw purchasing of firearms and gun trafficking.
Additionally, Sen. Ayotte worked with members on both sides of the aisle to help introduce separate legislation that sought to improve the nation’s mental health system. From her time as a prosecutor and as New Hampshire’s attorney general, she knows that many on the front lines of interfacing with the public need specialized training when it comes to understanding the warning signs of mental illness and helping those in crisis get the assistance they need. With that in mind, she worked with Democratic senators Mark Begich of Alaska and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to introduce the Mental Health First Aid Act. This bill is intended to improve mental health training for educators, law enforcement, and others who work in our communities. While many in the media were focused on the proposals that failed, portions of the bill Ayotte worked to introduce were included in a larger mental health improvement bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate by a vote of 95 to 2.
Efforts to prevent violence have brought forth passionate views. While this has frequently been an emotional debate, at the end of the day it’s important for common sense to prevail. Proposals that restrict the constitutional rights of responsible gun owners don’t address the real problem, which is keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and those who are mentally ill.
Sen. Ayotte understands that. As legislative proposals were drafted and considered, she brought her extensive background in the criminal justice system to this issue, and remained focused on practical solutions, not political quick-fixes that mask underlying problems with our existing background check system.