All Sections

Home  Columns

Bill Barry: Focusing on mental illness is a practical gun control measure

March 25. 2014 4:30PM

As a law enforcement officer, I have responsible gun ownership in my bloodstream. My fellow members of law enforcement and I have guns ourselves, and we take responsibility for using them safely and teaching our families about using them safely. But we also know what happens when guns get into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, including the dangerously mentally ill.

We see the carnage that befalls our communities, our colleagues and our friends — especially those in the law enforcement community who feel the risk and pain of this every day.

Fundamentally, gun violence stems from the most dangerous people in America having easy access to guns, a small number of whom are capable of horrendous acts due to severe mental illness. We know that federal law seeks to prevent those who have been adjudicated by the courts from passing a background check. This happens through a process that includes courts, judges and due process. It’s a high bar because we need to strike a balance that is careful not to stigmatize the vast majority of Americans living with mental illness who pose no threat to public safety.

But today in New Hampshire, people could be committed to a mental health care facility because of the danger they pose to themselves and others, but still be able to buy as many guns as they want.

A bill making its way through the Legislature, co-sponsored by Manchester Rep. Jeff Goley, a firefighter and fellow gun owner, could change that. Senate Bill 244 would require the state to submit a list of names of people who already cannot possess a gun under this federal law to the NICS instant background check system. This is an extremely balanced approach to preventing gun violence. It protects the Second Amendment rights of our law-abiding citizens who have obtained their firearms through legal means.

Protecting our families from gun violence is not a partisan issue. Even Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has opposed some other measures, has expressed support for the concept of focusing on mental illness where it is linked to gun violence. Surely we can agree that this is a practical and necessary step.

Right now, we are leaving our communities vulnerable by not including the names of adjudicated severely mentally ill in the background check system. And it is important to remember: these individuals are prohibited from possessing guns already, but a New Hampshire gun dealer currently has no way of knowing that.

Given this loophole, the threat is real. That’s why 37 other states have already complied, and currently submit their names. New Hampshire should, too.

In July, I was proud to join fellow members of law enforcement from throughout the state, along with former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, to call on our elected leaders to work hard to find common sense solutions to preventing gun violence.

Because we know that despite our best intentions, our communities are not as safe as they should be as long as we’re letting those people who shouldn’t get their hands on guns.

In my career, I’ve apprehended more than 1,500 criminals, and I’ve seen the devastating effects of gun violence — so much of it painfully preventable.

That’s why we have to take sensible steps to prevent the dangerously mentally ill from getting guns.

All it does is keep us all safer.

I hope our legislative leaders will take action and join us in the work we do to keep our communities safer by voting for common-sense solutions, like SB 244.

Bill Barry is an officer with the Auburn Police Department and a member of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Guest Commentary

Newsletter Signup