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Jim Kenyon: Mishap at West Lebanon Denny’s shows hazards of allowing guns everywhere

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 12/14/2019 10:13:25 PM
Modified: 12/14/2019 10:33:59 PM

At 4 in the morning on a recent Saturday, a customer walked into Denny’s in West Lebanon with a loaded handgun.

I’m not sure why the guy thought it was necessary to be packing heat to enjoy his Grand Slam breakfast, but this being New Hampshire, it was perfectly legal. And I’m afraid probably not all that unusual.

So why bring it up?

While near the hostess station at the front of the restaurant, the armed man accidentally shot himself.

Michael Bushey, 21, of Bethel, suffered injuries, albeit not life-threatening, as a result of a bullet striking his leg, Lebanon police said in a news release issued Friday. Police seized a .45-caliber pistol at the scene.

“Although there were several patrons near Bushey when his firearm discharged, there were no other injuries,” the release said.

The incident was captured on Denny’s security cameras and police have reviewed the videotape, Lebanon Chief Richard Mello told me.

On Thursday, Bushey was charged with reckless conduct with a firearm and released on personal recognizance. He’s scheduled to appear in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill on Dec. 30.

Legal troubles aside, Bushey was lucky — and so was everyone else who happened to be at the all-night diner on Route 12A in the early morning hours of Nov. 23.

“When you let everyone and anyone carry guns in public, this is the natural consequence,” said Allison Anderman, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national nonprofit named after former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at an event for her constituents in 2011.

I reached out to JR Hoell, a leader of the pro-gun New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, to talk about the Denny’s incident.

“Lacking any concrete information on the case, we can’t comment,” he said.

It’s no secret that New Hampshire and Vermont have some of the weakest gun laws in the country.

In Giffords Law Center’s most recent state ratings on gun safety laws, New Hampshire scored an “F.” The state’s failure to require a permit to carry a “hidden, loaded gun” in public no doubt contributed to the grade.

Vermont’s grade improved from an “F” to a “D-plus” after lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott took several steps, including approving universal background checks and banning sales of large-capacity magazines, in 2018. Like New Hampshire, however, Vermont still doesn’t require a permit or license to carry a concealed firearm.

Banning loaded firearms in public spaces isn’t a Second Amendment issue. It’s common sense. Studies show that keeping guns out of public spaces makes gun violence less likely, Anderman said.

Despite what the gun lobby would like to scare the public into believing, Giffords Law Center and most other gun-safety groups aren’t trying to take away all firearms from law-abiding Americans.

I’m a firm believer that guns (excluding assault weapons) have a place in society. Recreational uses, such as for hunting and target practice, immediately come to mind.

But I’m with Anderman when it comes to loaded firearms in public. Some gun owners have the “misguided belief” that bringing their loaded weapons into Denny’s, for instance, makes them safer, she said.

Anderman calls it emotional reasoning. “These people are very, very afraid,” she said. “Their fear of being attacked, and their reasoning is jeopardizing the safety of the rest of us.”

Unfortunately, not much is being done in Washington or statehouses about America’s gun-safety problem. Too many weak-kneed politicians don’t want to get on the wrong side of the gun lobby.

When Anderman went to work for Giffords Law Center in 2014, she counted four states, including Vermont, that allowed people to carry loaded weapons without a permit. Now, it’s up to 15.

In the last 20 years, the gun lobby has been successful in arguing the Second Amendment “extends beyond the home,” she said.

The incident at Denny’s isn’t an Upper Valley first. In 2016, a 24-year-old Lebanon man accidentally shot himself in the leg while he was seated inside a vehicle at the West Lebanon Cemetery. Ivan Deutsch was attempting to unload a .380-caliber pistol when it discharged in his lap, police said.

At the time, New Hampshire required gun owners to have a license to carry a concealed weapon. Deutsch, who didn’t have a license, ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

In 2017, however, the Legislature took the law off the books. which in an odd way, makes the legal stakes much higher for someone in Bushey’s situation.

Reckless conduct with a firearm is a felony, which carries a potential prison sentence of 3½ to seven years.

I don’t want Bushey to land in prison or end up with a felony on his record, but I also don’t want him — or any other Joe Citizen — walking around in public with a loaded firearm.

In New Hampshire, businesses have the right to ban firearms from their property.

When I contacted Denny’s, which is headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., a spokesman for the restaurant chain said it was “committed to ensuring the safety of our guests and staff.”

But when I asked company spokesman Randal Curtis in an email about whether Denny’s has a policy regarding loaded firearms on their premises, I didn’t hear back.

More businesses need to take a stand. It won’t necessarily stop bad people from doing bad things.

But everyone should be able to sit down at a restaurant without having to worry about the guy next to them losing control of his trigger finger.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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