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Injured Cops Take Gun Store Lawsuit to NH Supreme Court

Two Manchester police officers injured in a 2016 shooting are headed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after a Superior Court Judge ruled against them in their lawsuit against a gun store and the state. 

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal from Manchester officers Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor. They were shot by Ian Macpherson in May 2016. The officers are suing Chester Arms, where Macpherson bought the .40 caliber Smith and Wesson used in the shooting, and the New Hampshire Department of Safety, which provided the store the background check for the purchase.

Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled in February that O’Conner and Hardy could not have prevailed if the case had gone to trial, because both the store and the Department of Safety followed current law. He dismissed the case on summary judgment.

The shooting happened when the officers tried to question Macpherson about a gas station armed robbery. Hardy was shot in the face and torso; O’Connor was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg, according to the Associated Press. Both officers have since returned to active duty.

The officers brought the lawsuit against the store and the New Hampshire Department of Safety, claiming the mentally ill MacPherson, who has a history of domestic violence, should never have been sold the gun in the first place.

MacPherson ended up pleading not guilty by reason of insanity in 2018 and was ordered to serve five years at the New Hampshire State Psychiatric Hospital.

MacPherson was initially unable to purchase the gun when he went to Chester Arms in March 2016. The store employee contacted the state’s Gun Line, run by the Department of Safety, for a background check on MacPherson. The Gun Line told the store that MacPherson’s status was “delayed” for further investigation, according to Ruoff’s order.

The Gun Line investigation found MacPherson has a history of domestic violence charges out of Merrimack, as well as court-ordered mental health evaluations. A relative told Merrimack police that MacPherson suffered from serious mental illness, and this was conveyed to the Gun Line.

While this information was given to the Department of Safety and the Gun Line, the state never told Chester Arms not to sell MacPherson the gun, according to court records.

The Gun Line investigation found MacPherson’s relationships to the victims in the domestic violence cases did meet the legal definition of a violation that would prevent him from owning a firearm. The Gun Line employees were also unable to verify his mental health condition, according to the order.

The store followed the law by waiting three business days to hear back from the Gun Line, according to Ruoff’s order. After not being contacted by the state, the store allowed MacPherson to buy the gun, according to Ruoff’s order. MacPherson’s Gun Line status continued to stay “delayed” for the weeks he owned the gun and did not change until after he shot the officers.

“The Gun Line continued the delay status on Mr. MacPherson’s transaction until the day he was indicted for the shooting, at which point the Gun Line changed the status to denied,” Ruoff wrote.

Shaheen Calls Sununu ‘Cowardly’ On Guns. But Remember Carl Drega?

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen took to Twitter to accurse Gov. Chris Sununu of cowardice. But her own record as governor is problematic.

In response to a tweet from Sununu regarding the Robb Elementary School shooting, Shaheen wrote, “How can anyone be complacent with this status quo? Refusing to enact common-sense gun reforms is cowardly, irresponsible, and deadly.

“Buffalo. Uvalde. Tulsa. Las Vegas. Orlando. Newtown. Parkland. Aurora. Columbine,” Shaheen added. “The list goes on.”

But there is another town she could have added to the list: Colebrook, N.H.

In August 1997, Carl Drega shot and killed four people in Colebrook, including two New Hampshire State troopers in the state’s only mass shooting. 

Carl Drega

Described as a disgruntled loner who blamed local officials for his wife’s death from cancer, the 62-year-old Drega had repeatedly been involved in disputes over zoning regulations and property taxes with the town of Columbia, N.H. Years of frustration boiled over into deadly rage on August 19 when state troopers Les Lord and Scott Phillips pulled him over for excessive rust on his truck.

Drega stole the dead officers’ police car and drove to Colebrook District Court to hunt down Judge Vicki Bunnell, who was also a Columbia selectwoman and had a restraining order against him. Drega shot her eight times in the back. When Dennis Joos, editor of the Colebrook News and Sentinel, tried to wrestle the AR-15 away from him, Drega killed him, too.

Drega went to his house in Columbia and set it on fire. He was confronted by N.H. Fish and Game warden Wayne Saunders, who Drega shot and wounded. He then fled across the river to Vermont for a last stand, during which three more law enforcement officers were wounded before Drega was finally shot to death.

It was a shocking crime in a small community. A library in Stewartstown was later named for Joos in honor of his courage. Books have been written about the horrific events of that August day.

And who was governor in 1997? Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

In the aftermath of New Hampshire’s only mass shooting, then-Gov. Shaheen didn’t sign any laws restricting gun ownership or making it more difficult to buy AR-15s. Indeed, Democrats have held the corner office for 19 of the 25 years since Drega’s rampage and New Hampshire still has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation. 

NHJournal repeatedly contacted Shaheen’s office for a comment about her gun control record, her accusation of cowardice against Gov. Sununu, and what she would do in response to the mass shooting in Texas. She declined to respond.

Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, Director of the Public Protection Division, said the FBI defines mass shooting incidents as those with four victims, not including the shooter or shooters.

“The Congressional Research Service defines mass shootings as multiple, firearm, homicide incidents, involving four or more victims at one or more locations close to one another,” Strelzin said.

While Drega’s shooting is the only one to meet the FBI’s definition of a mass shooting, Strelzin said there are two other incidents in which three people were shot.

In July 2007, Michael Woodbury shot and killed three men in a store in Conway. In 2010, Ken Arsenault shot three people in Pittsburg. One victim later died.

Both of those shootings also occurred on the watch of Democratic Gov. John Lynch. During his record four terms, no significant gun restrictions were put into place.

Hassan’s contribution to gun control as governor was vetoing the constitutional carry bill that Sununu would go on to sign into law.

The Gifford Law Center, a non-profit dedicated to preventing gun violence, gives New Hampshire an F in gun control laws.

“New Hampshire lacks many basic gun safety protections and, in fact, has weakened its gun laws in recent years—state lawmakers must reverse this deadly trend,” the Giffords ranking states. “New Hampshire has not passed any meaningful gun safety laws in years, and recently enacted a law that allows people to carry loaded, hidden handguns in public without a background check or permit.”

But according to Jim Goulden, a Nashua defense attorney who specializes in gun crime cases, New Hampshire politicians who support gun control usually end up out of office.

“I don’t know of any New Hampshire politician who has pushed for greater gun control,” he said.

New Hampshire’s gun laws tend to focus on punishing people who use firearms in the commission of a crime, or who possess firearms while being legally prohibited from doing so, he said. Goulden said the results of New Hampshire’s laws are evident.

“If we’re going by crimes involving firearms, New Hampshire has very good gun control, we have very few gun crimes,” he said.

Last year, the FBI released crime statistics for 2020, finding a 30 percent surge in murders nationwide, but not in New Hampshire. According to the FBI’s data, there were 6.5 murders per 100,000 people nationally. In New Hampshire, it was 0.9 per 100,000 or 12 murders for all of 2020.

The 2020 statistic may be an anomaly. Michael Garrity, director of communication for the New Hampshire Department of Justice, said the state typically averages about 19 murders per year, and 2022 is following the trend.

“There have been 11 so far this year, so there has been no spike in homicides,” he said.

Goulden said no matter the gun laws anyone wants to propose, the only real change will happen when people start getting serious about addressing mental illness.

“Until people start taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own families, mental illness, always going to be an outlier,” he said.

Judge Rejects Lawsuit Blaming Derry Gun Store For Cop Shooting

Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled against two Manchester police officers injured in a 2016 shooting in a lawsuit the officers brought against a Derry gun store.

“This is absolutely a great day for gun rights in New Hampshire,” said Sean List, the attorney for Chester Arms in Derry.

Manchester officers Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor were reportedly shot by Ian Macpherson in May 2016 when they tried to question him about a gas station armed robbery. Hardy was shot in the face and torso; O’Connor was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg, according to the Associated Press. Both officers have since returned to active duty.

The officers brought a lawsuit against Chester Arms, the store where MacPherson bought his .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. They also sued the New Hampshire Department of Safety, claiming that the mentally ill MacPherson, who has a history of domestic violence, should never have been sold the gun in the first place.

Ruoff ruled in a summary judgment order that O’Connor and Hardy would not have prevailed if the case had gone to trial because both the store and the Department of Safety followed current law. List said it is possible the pair will appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, but he’s unconcerned about the prospect.

“We feel very confident that if it is appealed, the Supreme Court will find judge Ruoff’s order is correct,” List said.

Stephen Gutowski, editor of The Reload, the nation’s leading journal on gun issues, tells NHJournal he sees the Chester Arms case in a larger, national context.

“This case is part of a broader decades-long strategy by gun-control advocates to hold gun makers and retailers liable for gun crimes they aren’t directly implicated in. It’s not surprising they fell short here. However, the loss is unlikely to deter advocates from pursuing more cases like this moving forward,” Gutowski said.

Representatives for the Manchester Police Department declined to comment, and Mayor Joyce Craig’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Mark Morrissette, the attorney representing O’Conner and Hardy, told NHPR he wanted the case to force New Hampshire to start following federal law on background checks.

MacPherson ended up pleading not guilty by reason of insanity in 2018. He was ordered to serve five years in the New Hampshire State Psychiatric Hospital.

MacPherson was initially unable to purchase the gun when he went to Chester Arms in March 2016. The store employee contacted the state’s “gun check line,” run by the Department of Safety, for a background check on him. The gun line told the store that MacPherson’s status was “delayed” for further investigation, according to Ruoff’s order.

The gun line investigation found MacPherson’s domestic violence cases did not trigger any legal prohibition that would prevent him from owning a firearm. The gun line employees were also unable to verify his mental health condition, according to the order.

While that information was given to the Department of Safety and the Gun Line, the state never told Chester Arms not to sell MacPherson the gun.

The gun line investigation found the relationships to the victims in MacPherson’s domestic violence cases, those convictions did meet the legal definition of a violation that would prevent him from owning a firearm. The gun line employees were also unable to verify his mental health condition, according to the order.

The store followed the law by waiting three business days to hear back from the gun line. After not being contacted by the state, the store allowed MacPherson to buy the gun, according to Ruoff’s order. MacPherson’s gun line status continued to stay “delayed” for the weeks he owned the gun and did not change until after he shot the officers.

“The gun line continued the delay status on Mr. MacPherson’s transaction until the day he was indicted for the shooting, at which point the gun line changed the status to denied,” Ruoff wrote. 

List said gun dealers have immunity when they sell guns so long as they do not commit felonies during the course of an individual gun sale. 

Morrissette told NHPR that even though the store and the Department of Safety followed the rules, the laws should not allow someone like MacPherson to purchase a gun. The lawsuit wanted to have the laws protecting dealers ruled unconstitutional.

“It is not an effort to undermine the Second Amendment. There are laws in place that limit the purchase or possession of weapons, or at least to have someone look at this in a deliberate fashion to make sure that people are not unreasonably harmed,” Morrissette said. “The laws were there. The guidelines were there and they should be looked at. I think at the end of the day, in this case, Mr. MacPherson was a tormented person without overstating it in any way. And to believe that he was rightly given a weapon just runs counter to common sense and it runs counter to the law.”

Ruoff found that the laws protecting Chester Arms serve to protect the right to bear arms. 

Shaheen Uses Debunked School Shooting Stats During DeVos Grilling

It’s no secret that U. S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) isn’t a fan of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She opposed DeVos’s nomination and has repeatedly criticized her since.

But this week the criticism veered into a new area: Guns.

During Secretary DeVos’s appearance before an Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Shaheen asked her about school safety and guns.  After reading a letter from a high school student in Dover, Shaheen went on to claim that “since 2009, the US has had 57 times more school shootings than the rest of the G7 countries combined. That’s 288 school shootings in the U.S.”

“The question I have for you, Secretary DeVos, is–what are these countries doing that we’re not doing? Do they have fewer mentally ill people? Do they arm their teachers? Or do they have more sensible gun laws?

Secretary DeVos suggested to the committee that the new Federal Commission of School Safety established at the behest of President Trump will not look at the issue of guns and gun violence–which, if true, would appear to be a glaring omission. However, Sen. Shaheen’s claim of 288 school shootings in the U. S. since 2009 also bears scrutiny.

According to researchers at Northeastern University, schools are actually safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common.

“Since 1996, there have been 16 multiple victim shootings in schools, or incidents involving 4 or more victims and at least 2 deaths by firearms, excluding the assailant,” the report shows.  Now, Sen. Shaheen did not use the phrase “mass shootings,” which is what most people think of when they hear “school shootings,” so perhaps she simply meant all shootings at K-12 schools.

Ooops. Here’s their data on all school shootings where there was even a single fatality:

Notice that, since 2009, the number of fatal shootings rarely exceeds single digits. That would put the number since 2009 closer to 80, not 288.

Sen. Shaheen appears to be relying on a report from CNN which the network admits is based on their own count of media reports of shootings and not on actual police data. CNN also acknowledges their numbers  include, not just K-12 schools, but  colleges and vocational schools. Many of the incidents are  gang violence, domestic violence, robberies in school parking lots and accidents.

CNN didn’t reveal their raw data, but a previous CNN analysis of school shootings in 2018 included a student shot with a BB gun. Of the 23 school shootings on CNN’s list for 2018, only two meet the criteria of a mass shooting.

Every school shooting is an outrage, of course, and Sen. Shaheen’s questions about how the Department of Education intends to address the issue are certainly legitimate. But including bogus, poorly-sourced and debunked data in the conversation doesn’t advance legitimate debate.

Watch the exchange between Sen. Shaheen and Secretary DeVos here:

New Hampshire Gun Stores See Sales Rise On Vermont Border

When Republican Governor Phil Scott–who ran as an opponent of expanded gun laws–recently signed a series of gun restrictions into law, he was greeted with cries of “Traitor” from Second Amendment supporters in Vermont. But on the other side of the border, he may hear a different cry:

“Cha-CHING!”

According to media reports, New Hampshire gun stores in communities along the Vermont border are already seeing an uptick in sales–and are anticipating even more.

“We always get a fair amount of business from Vermont, but there has been a little bit of an uptick the last few weeks,” Dick Basnar of Corey’s Sports Shop in Littleton told Caldonian Record.

Leila Welch, owner of Welch’s Gun and Gift in Lebanon, NH is having a similar experience. “I don’t have many AR’s,” she told the NHJournal, “but I’ve had some magazines [people from New Hampshire] are buying.”

Restrictions on magazines (no more than 10 rounds for rifles, 15 rounds for handguns) are a key part of the new laws that will be taking full effect in Vermont as of October 1st. The law also expands background checks and prohibits people under the age of 21 from buying guns unless they take a government-approved training course.

 

Gov. Scott’s flip-flop on gun rights has inspired both a surge of anger–and possibly a surge in New Hampshire gun sales.  Meanwhile, Vermont’s gun rights activists insist these new laws are solving a “problem” that doesn’t exist.

“Our average murder rate by firearms is four a year, out of a population of 625, 000,” notes Eddie Cutler of Gun Owners of Vermont, a pro-Second-Amendment organization that’s organized opposition to these laws. “Once Gov. Scott, in his infinite wisdom, decided to [find] an excuse to pass gun control, he opened the flood gates and next thing we knew we were up to our armpits in gun control laws.”

And possibly a flood of gun sales in the Granite State beginning this fall.

O’Malley: Gun Control Is A Winning Issue For Democrats In 2020–And Beyond.

Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor and 2016 Democratic presidential contender, brought a message of unabashed optimism to Tuesday’s “Politics and Eggs” event. Optimism–and liberalism.

“I bring good news,” O’Malley told the crowd at St. Anselm College. “It’s springtime. There’s goodness in this country, and it longs to be called forward.”

The “Politics and Eggs” event hosted by the New England Council and St. Anselm’s Institute of Politics is a mandatory stop on the presidential-contenders New Hampshire circuit.  O’Malley used this return visit to call upon Democrats to embrace the energy and idealism of young Americans. He specifically pointed to the leaders of the #MarchForOurLives rally for gun control, which he attended with his son.

“If you want to know where a country is headed, talk to its young people,” O’Malley said. “What I heard from that stage was the best of America.”

O’Malley made light of his previous less-than-successful bid for the White House, calling his return to the Granite State “a triumph of hope over cruel experience.”  He also took a pot shot at his previous POTUS rivals (“I was the only lifelong Democrat who ran for President in 2016”) and offered praise of a sort for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

“Donald Trump is the most effective tool for candidate recruitment we Democrats have ever had.”

On policy, O’Malley toed the progressive line on issues from gun control to immigration to social spending—even calling for an expansion of Social Security at a time when many analysts are concerned about its long-term solvency.

But the specific issue most on the mind of the crowd and the candidate was guns. “America is the only developed nation on the planet to allow people to buy combat assault weapons,” O’Malley said repeatedly throughout his remarks.  When a questioner asked what he would do about school violence “without repealing the Second Amendment,” O’Malley laid out his extensive record on gun control while governor of Maryland: Requiring fingerprints and gun training for all purchases; imposing a mandatory 7-day wait period; banning the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition; and banning the sale of what O’Malley insists on calling “combat assault weapons.”

The NRA calls these same guns “45 specific types of commonly owned semiautomatic firearms” and Maryland passed O’Malley’s gun law in 2013 over their strenuous objections.  Interestingly, the homicide rate in Maryland has actually increased since the 2013 gun ban went into effect. In fact, the city of Baltimore alone had almost as many murders in 2017 (343) as the entire state had the last year O’Malley was governor (363). Why would gun crime increase in the wake of a gun ban, and at a faster rate than the nation as a whole?

“It’s hard to measure prevention,” O’Malley said, before laying the blame for increased homicide rates at the feet of the two Baltimore mayors,  Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and Catherine Pugh, who were elected after he left the mayor’s office to become governor.

O’Malley claimed there’s “a strong correlation between states that make it harder for pope to buy combat assault weapons and lower rates of both homicides and suicides,” an opinion some researchers do not share.

“In Baltimore there were a number of things we did during the 10-year period [when O’Malley was mayor] we led all cities in the rate of reduction of crime, and I was not able to make many of those things permanent. Upon my leaving, my two successors starting making different policy choices.”

O’Malley paused, then added: “There really wasn’t much journalistic scrutiny about those reversals of policy and as a result a lot of people are being killed again in our poorest neighborhoods.”

So does Martin O’Malley believe that gun control is a winning issue for Democrats in 2020?

“Yes I do. In 2020, and beyond.”

NH Dem: Repealing Second Amendment “A Good Discussion To Have”

Is it time to repeal the Second Amendment?  Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an op-ed for the New York Times urging just that, and at least one New Hampshire Democrat thinks it’s worth considering.

Rep. Katherine Rogers (D-Merrimack) has long been active in the New Hampshire state house pushing gun control measures (she prefers the phrase “gun violence prevention”) and in an interview with the NH Journal, she said “it’s an interesting discussion that we should have.”

“I think that the United States Constitution is a living, breathing document and it’s always time to revisit and to look at our Constitution,” Rep. Rogers said.

“So I think having this discussions is good, and maybe the op-ed by Justice Stevens leads to a lot of interesting discussion. That’s a good thing. I don’t know if I’m ready to say let’s get rid of the Second Amendment, but I think it’s an interesting discussion for everybody to have,” Rogers said.

Jonathan Weinberg, one of the student leaders of the #MarchForOurLives rallies in New Hampshire singled out Rep. Rogers, along with state senator Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover), for supporting students’ efforts on gun control. Last week, students from the group presented a petition signed by several hundred area students to Gov. Sununu and the state senate urging the legislature to change state law and allow local school districts to declare their schools gun-free zones. The measure failed 14-9.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire GOP is following the lead of President Trump, seizing on the Stevens op-ed to urge gun-rights supporters to get involved in the 2018 elections.  Just hours after President Trump tweeted about Justice Stevens’ call for repeal (“NO WAY! We need more Republicans in 2018 ad must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!”) the NHGOP posted “StopTheGunGrab.com,” featuring a video by party chairwoman Jeanie Forrester. In the video, she warns New Hampshire residents that “The Left is openly advocating the repeal of the Second Amendment…It’s unconscionable.” (See full video below)

Forrester demands elected Democrats like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Annie Kuster “must denounce this un-American threat to our liberties.”

For their part, Democrats don’t seem worried. Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley responded to the video by mocking the GOP.

Is welcoming a conversation about repealing the Second Amendment and mocking gun-owners concerns a sign that the New Hampshire Democratic Party is moving left on the gun issue, along with their national party?  Do they believe that gun control could be a winning issue in the Granite State?

“Oh, please,” says Republican Bill O’Brien, former Speaker of the NH House, “throw us in that briar patch!” O’Brien believes that even among Democratic voters, support for gun rights in New Hampshire is strong.

“We’re not afraid of guns here,” O’Brien to the NHJournal. “I don’t know who [the Democrats] are talking to with these messages—maybe the academic crowd, college students? Let them run on gun control and see how most voters react.”