Forum, March 4: ‘Valley News’ Readers Weigh in on Guns

Saturday, March 03, 2018
To Our Readers:

The Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead, galvanized the surviving students into action, shook the political landscape, and inspired an outpouring of letters from Valley News readers to the Forum — an outpouring that continues today, almost three weeks after the massacre.

Our practice, when the volume of mail on a particular subject is large, is to select a representative sample of opinions for publication. We will continue that practice in this case. However, given the passion our readers have demonstrated and the perspectives they have brought to this tragedy and its attendant issues, we have expanded the space available for letters in today’s edition in order to present as many as we can, and we will continue publish as many letters as possible in future editions of the Forum.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

It’s Not Guns, It’s Society

For the record, I’m not an NRA member. I’ve owned guns for 53 years. Growing up, there were guns in every house that my friends and family lived in. We were taught to respect guns. The consequences of mishandling or even touching a firearm without permission and adult supervision were severe: loss of privileges, getting chewed out, spanked or all three. None of the people I grew up with ever shot anyone or even considered doing the wrong thing with a gun. We even policed and educated others who hunted with us who hadn’t had the benefit of our gun training.

I target shoot and hunt. I have taught my daughters and my grandsons to target shoot with rifle, shotgun and pistol while imparting lessons about safety and consequences. I have helped introduce friends’ children to hunting and gun safety while imparting the same lessons.

There’s a common misconception that semiautomatic weapons are somehow inherently dangerous and evil. Semiautomatic weapons have been in use for more than 100 years. Current so-called “assault weapons” are nothing more than semiautomatic rifles dressed up to approximate the appearance of military arms and fitted with a higher-capacity magazine. The misuse of them, at the cost of multiple human lives, is a more recent phenomenon.

What changed? Not the guns, except in exterior appearance and magazine capacity. People are injuring and killing large numbers of people with guns, poison, knives, airplanes and vehicles. Again, what has changed? Society has changed.

Bill Finn


A Country Gone Cuckoo

Another mass shooting. Another mass media extravaganza. Another round of gun control mass insanity. What nonsense this is. The problem with America is simple, folks: This country is completely nuts, absolutely bonkers.

Really, isn’t that obvious yet? Uncle Sam is the leading cause of gun violence in the world, but there’s hardly a peep from normal Americans, which is to say, Americans who live in the normalcy trance. A deranged gunman, whether it be Uncle Sam or an average citizen, seeking to do harm, will find a gun and use it, regardless of silly gun laws or equally silly gun-free zones.

This country suffers from a deep-seated and obvious mental illness. It can’t be reversed with feel-good solutions legislated by the gangsters of violence in Washington. Real problems can’t be fixed with imaginary solutions and pixie dust. That is just another indication of delusional kookiness.

America has been loaded with guns for centuries. Nobody was particularly interested in regularly turning school buildings into shooting galleries until we entered this 21st century, post-9/11 darkness. If anyone really cares to address the many problems we face, it’s necessary to open your minds, open your eyes and see what has really happened to this country. The lunatic acts of our highest leadership can’t be dismissed as conspiracy theory. Their madness is our madness. History is full of stories of countries that went cuckoo. Unfortunately for us, we’ve been living in one of them for years. Our innocent children are the victims.

Neil Meliment


Vermont’s Principles at Risk

Last year, I moved my family of seven from Maryland to Vermont because Vermonters believe in freedom, justice and equity.

As imperfect as our institutions are, daily I see Vermonters strive for these three principles. It is these foundational principles that you resolve to put at risk with the unnecessarily divisive rhetoric and proposed haphazard gun control legislation.

The freedom of Vermonters to go about life unmolested by the state when they have done nothing wrong is in jeopardy. As a gun owner, or a potential gun owner, I deserve to not be prejudged simply because I exercise my right to own a firearm. I deserve not to be called, or assumed to be, a willing co-conspirator to any already illegal use of firearms.

Today we are asking Vermonters to turn against their neighbors by demonizing gun owners, jeopardizing the values of freedom and unity so essential to Vermonters.

Levar Cole


A Strict Interpretation

To those who rely on the Second Amendment to defend their right to bear arms, I suggest the adoption of a strict constructionist interpretation of the amendment: The “arms” referred to were flintlock, muzzleloader muskets and pistols. These weapons, in the hands of a trained soldier, could fire as many as two rounds per minute. Such weapons could be useful in protecting one’s property (a favorite NRA justification for gun ownership), but not for slaughtering large numbers of defenseless schoolchildren.

Surely the Second Amendment deserves to be defended literally: Two rounds per minute.

Joan Beardsley

West Lebanon

An Appreciation for Teachers

Many things are asked of, or demanded of, today’s teachers. As a principal of a small K-8 school in Strafford, I should know. I do the cajoling. Not only do teachers need to organize curriculum and plan engaging lessons, they must implement support programs that help students emotionally, socially and academically. They are trained in safe ways to restrain children and clean up bodily fluids. They are asked to differentiate instruction and provide flexible pathways for various learners. They are required to facilitate the creation of personal learning plans and create proficiency scales. They must teach sexual abuse prevention and disability awareness. They must adhere to new wellness, bullying and technology policies. They are brain experts and continuously try to create emotionally and physically safe learning environments. They build relationships with students and reach out to families in an effort to educate all children.

Being a teacher is a hugely challenging job that requires the utmost ability to problem-solve, collaborate and think flexibly. Successful educators are motivated by the children, families and the wonderful communities they serve.

I believe all initiatives in education come from the best of intentions and most are based on solid data and decision-making. However, today, more than ever, teachers and staff are taking on responsibilities to cure the myriad issues affecting our society. I can not imagine an educational environment where these caring individuals are persuaded to carry guns in order to create a front line of defense against armed threats. I encourage our lawmakers to slow down, use data to make decisions, and take a more holistic approach to the issue.

Greg Bagnato

South Strafford

Not Promoting the General Welfare

The Republican Party, which wraps itself in selective use of the Constitution, has given us a society in which Nazis parade in North Carolina and children are killed in our schools. Prospective parents now wonder about bringing children into this world.

The Constitution starts with the responsibility to ensure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare. But NRA Republicans hide behind the Second Amendment and work to violate other parts of our constitution by enabling the public use of assault weapons and concealed carry laws that promote armed threats in church, school and elsewhere. Republicans also have an active legislative program to require extensive documentation to vote, but not to buy a gun. They specifically have laws to discourage background checks, etc.

We have witnessed their vulgar proposals such as arming teachers, allowing guns at school events, laws discouraging restrictions on the mentally ill, etc. For the record, I am an independent and support the right to bear arms. However, the NRA and the “Freedom Party” want to take away our freedom to move outside our homes in peace by funneling large sums of money to Republican candidates and leadership.

Harvey Bazarian


Schools Need Trained Marksmen

Can someone explain to me why there is no one in a school to protect everyone? Doesn’t it make common sense to have a trained person, trained by the police and the NRA, ready to shoot back?

Every time school shootings happen, we cry; we are horrified. What if a trained person on duty could fire back and take out the murderer? Obviously we can’t have everyone with a gun. I’m talking about trained marksmen.

This is rank stupidity to have no defender. Wake up you hysterics. Save a life.

Janet C. Connolly


Questions About Arming Teachers

Would someone please ask our genius president to explain exactly how thousands of teachers are going to be trained to carry a concealed handgun for eight-plus hours in classrooms full of students day after day for an entire school year? And how, on the occasion of a shooter, possibly wearing a bulletproof vest, bursting into their class, they will calmly pull out their weapon and take him out? And finally, justify the expense, considering that the odds of it ever happening are virtually zero. And we haven’t even brought up the logistics of safe storage and training, or a mentally unstable teacher, or a teacher feeling threatened, etc., etc.

This is the problem with having a man-child president who is prone to conflating reality and reality TV, and who probably thinks the Westerns he saw as a kid, glorifying fast guns and good guys calmly taking out bad hombres actually portrayed reality. Watching him make this crazy NRA-drafted proposal, as if he’d thought long and hard about it, to parents who have lost children in mass shootings and have been thinking hard ever since about how to prevent them (none of whom want anything to do with his suggestion), was outrageous, and about as disgusting and fake a moment as I’ve seen.

Some obvious steps (and nothing will ever be foolproof) are more thorough background checks, longer waiting periods, a ban on gun purchases by anyone under 21, and a total ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Jim Brown


The Problem Is the Guns

Here we are again, another school massacre perpetrated by a disturbed kid with a gun.

As a retired health professional, I recognize how difficult it is to predict behavior. It is an inexact science complicated by the mores and laws of our society that tell us to mind our own business and that people are innocent until proven guilty. Given that, we are left with the option of removing the “tool” used in so many of these mass killings, which is an assault rifle.

While hobbyist shooters may enjoy their assault rifles at the range, the prevalence of these weapons among perpetrators of mass shootings is so great that we can no longer risk having them in circulation. Gun enthusiasts and those who wish to protect their families at home will continue to have multiple lethal firearms, other than assault rifles, with which to do so. Special interests are blocking the ability of our society to do the right thing, in spite of the obvious evidence.

The most straightforward approach is to remove assault weapons from circulation. Look to the successful Australian model, which includes generous buybacks and large fines for those who don’t comply. Of course, the NRA will be unhappy and gun rights advocates will be “up in arms,” but folks who have had enough of this mass killing must prevail. The survival of schoolchildren depends on it.

It is playing into the hands of the NRA to say that the right answer is spying on our neighbors. That is just one more step in the creation of the totalitarian police state. The Florida gunman committed no crime, until he proceeded to commit mass murder. So what if many people had “turned him in”? What could they have done? We do not have, nor do we want to have, thought crimes in this country. That reeks of Orwell’s 1984.

As one of the Parkland students asked, how much harm could the shooter (or any other mass murderers) have done if he had been armed with a knife?

It’s the guns, stupid.

Charles A. Freeman


Make the NRA Pay for Security

When I was in school we had air raid drills. Crouching in the hallway or under our desks would not have protected us, but there never was a need. Today’s schoolchildren have active-shooter drills because massacres are real and happen too often. While we thought our drills were a bit funny, children now are having to face their own mortality in a way we never did. What the overall effect on them will be remains to be seen.

The NRA says we need to provide better security in the schools. Instead of spending many millions of dollars buying politicians, I feel they should pay for adequate security for every school in this country. Most schools do not have the money to pay for real security, and their job is to educate our young. Any representative or senator who continues to accept bribe money from the NRA must be voted out of office this November.

Sarah T. Stableford

East Thetford

The Children Aren’t Safe

A local television newscaster recently asked a child psychiatrist, “What can we tell our children to help them feel safe in school?”

The doctor gave a reasonable answer, but the question is filled with denial. The truth is this: Children are not safe in school. And, I regret, they won’t be, so long as America loves guns more than children.

Rev. Ralph W. Mueckenheim


Billy Graham’s Message Is Needed

Billy Graham’s death on the day when Parkland students went to Tallahassee to petition legislators for school safety makes me realize that an era has passed when Graham’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as the way, truth and life was accepted and largely brought America together.

Graham’s powerful message about the effects of hope, love and prayer is now very much needed by students, parents and legislators facing the issue of school safety.

Donald Kivell


Political Money Is the Issue

It’s clear from Politico’s list of donations in the 2016 federal election cycle that the NRA contributes overwhelmingly to Republicans, with less than 1.5 percent going to Democrats. The gun lobby knows where its support (and funding dependency) lies. Like reproduction rights, voting rights and immigration policy, gun control, fueled by big money, is a classic wedge issue in our national politics. As long as well-funded hyper-partisan politicians are locked in combat over these and other social issues there can be no legislative solutions.

If political money weren’t at issue, and legislators didn’t have to raise money constantly, what would our politics look like? In taking the dollars out of elections and significantly reducing the influence of lobbyists, bipartisanship could blossom. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech and cannot be regulated in elections.

Trust in civil society can only be gained by people acting cooperatively. Individuals arming themselves for self-defense signals the end of civic trust. Self-defense, fueled by money as speech, is fatal to a constitutional democracy. Only new appeals to the Supreme Court to reinterpret the First and Second amendments can change this. The politicians won’t.

Charles DePuy


A Gun Control Act That Worked

Gun control discussions include the matter of large-capacity magazines or clips. There continues to be robust debate about what restrictions to gun ownership and use are “reasonable” under the Second Amendment, as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court.

I reach back a century for an example of congressional action to outlaw the use of weapons capable of bringing death and injury to intended targets swiftly without having to reload. The targets were migratory waterfowl — ducks and geese whose survival was threatened by market gunners killing on a commercial scale for eager consumers.

With the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, Congress stopped this carnage. As well as setting strict seasons and bag limits, this law outlawed devices then in use including “punt guns” (large-bore shotguns with very long barrels) and “swivel guns” (essentially small cannons mounted to the foredeck of low “sneak boats”). In addition, shotguns used in waterfowl hunting to this day are limited to three shells. The required annual purchase of a federal duck stamp by waterfowl hunters serves as a reminder of the rules, as well as a reaffirmation of the beneficial role of the federal government.

Note that, in 1918, there was no gun lobby pouring millions of dollars into the election campaigns of those seeking to enter or stay in the U.S. House or Senate. So, instead of pushing for armed wardens on every waterway, Congress fixed the problem by banning the weaponry used to create the carnage.

If we can accept — even applaud — limiting the capacity of shotguns to three shells to preserve flocks of migrating ducks and geese, can we not live with a reasonable cap on the capacity of semiautomatic long guns and handguns sold in the open market? Are people in the United States today less deserving of reasonable protections than waterfowl? Perhaps these passionate young Florida students, tired of being sitting ducks, will show us the way.

Joseph S. Warner


Help Boards Make Schools Safer

It is time for Gov. Chris Sununu and his attorney general to step up to the plate and work with local school boards to provide safety in New Hampshire schools.

Communities have been told that they are barred by state law from banning firearms on school property, and now they will need guidance in developing specific policies to accommodate armed citizens in schools.

Can a school secretary ask armed citizens to provide their IDs and sign a form asserting that they are allowed by law to carry in the state? Is it our right to bring multiple guns with multiple rounds of ammunition into a school or sporting event? Does the guidance counselor have the right to inspect an AR-15 to determine whether it has been legally modified with an aftermarket bump stock or illegally machined to full automatic capability?

If we are going to arm our teachers and school administrators, this would be a perfect opportunity for a great public-private partnership between the state and the NRA. Online classes can be developed to train all school employees in firearm tactics and the importance of respecting every citizen’s God-given right to carry firearms in schools. I am sure that a 60- to 90-minute video class (with a test) will make our schools “safer” for all, and compliant with state law.

Of course, there are alternatives to militarizing our schools. The next generation of 20- and 30-year-olds seem to have far more common sense and compassion than we do. I can only hope that they can wrest power from the old guard and special interests running our government sooner rather than later.

Clayton Platt


We Brought This on Ourselves

Think for a few minutes back to the 1950s and ’60s when everyone 16 years old and up who had a license, even some girls, carried a rifle in their truck or car everywhere they went, school included. But we knew they were for hunting only, and we didn’t have all this violence then. We brought this violence on ourselves.

Look at the top-selling movies, video games and TV shows — all there is is violence: how bad you can shoot up stuff and how much you can destroy? Hollywood makes millions, but think about what they have done over the years. If you notice, all the problems are in the cities. What else have they got to do but movies and video games?

Denis Backus


The Ultimate Failing Grade

There are a great many things the matter with President Donald Trump’s recent proposal pertaining to in-school violence, not the least of which is that it adds to the responsibilities of the teacher who would no longer would take responsibility merely for evaluating what the student learns but rather for his or her very existence.

A child seen as unfit intellectually merely runs the risk of receiving a failing grade, whereas a student seen as dangerous, and thus beyond the pale, may be shot dead by the teacher on the spot. That is the ultimate failing grade. It is bound to make a cautionary impression on students and faculty alike and to bring about peace, love, safety and a proper learning environment to the entire institution.

It is also madness.

Robert Belenky


Common Sense and Proven Solutions

I see such a strong parallel between using a gun and using a car: both have minimum ages, both can be used without ownership, knowledge or training, both are very useful, and both are potentially lethal, to yourself and others.

Having grown up duck hunting, I honor and respect learning how to hunt, how to care for game, how to care for guns, in my case shotguns. So I don’t want to inhibit a young person’s learning how to hunt. Weapons like the AR-15 are, by definition, assault weapons. Hunting and sport shooting don’t require an assault weapon.

The Valley News story on the 1994-2004 ban on assault weapons (“Congress Banned Assault Weapons in 1994 — And It Worked,” Feb. 23) was clear in the impact of this legislation and the results of its expiration. Other countries have banned assault weapons with the same dramatic reduction in massacres.

With hope, the students from all over the U.S. keep up their campaign to eliminate assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and in support of background checks. They’re asking for common sense and proven solutions. Keep it simple.

Anne Peyton

South Strafford

Proud of Student Protesters

I am so proud of the students who are demonstrating against the gun violence in our schools. For a while, I thought students these days were complacent. I was remembering the civil rights demonstrations of the 1950s and ‘60s, and the antiwar marches of the ’60s, in which I took part. Anyway, good on them.

Alison S. Gravel