In an emotional speech broadcast to the nation Thursday night, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass a series of gun control measures in response to a surge in mass shootings over the past month. Among his proposals: A ban on so-called “assault weapons,” a federal “red flag” law, and a repeal of gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.
Biden noted that to get those measures through Congress he needs the support of at least 10 Republican senators. But he was assuming he would have the votes of all 50 Democrats in the Senate as well, including those running for re-election this year in purple states with a large percentage of gun owners.
Like Sen. Maggie Hassan.
Biden began his speech by stating flatly, “This is not about taking away anyone’s guns or vilifying responsible gun owners. I respect the culture, tradition, and concerns of lawful gun owners.” It was an admission that many gun owners do not trust Democrats on the Second Amendment issue.
Biden then laid out his proposals for new gun control laws:
- A ban on “assault weapons.”
- Failing that, raising the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.
- A ban on high-capacity magazines.
- More background checks.
- A federal “red flag” law.
- An end to gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.
The latter is of particular interest in New Hampshire, which according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, ranks first in the nation in terms of total gun manufacturing jobs and economic output per capita.
New Hampshire also consistently has one of the lowest homicide rates in the nation, despite having the second-highest number of guns per capita in the nation, according to a 2017 survey. Pew Research reports more than 41 percent of Granite Staters have a gun in their homes.
Biden decried the lack of new gun laws as an outrage, and he placed the blame on the GOP.
“I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republicans trying to find a way to get something done, but my God, the fact that a majority of Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote I find unconscionable,” he said.
However, only one Democrat in the Granite State delegation — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — posted a response to Biden’s speech Thursday night.
“Commonsense gun reform and upholding the 2nd amendment are not mutually exclusive. Our people – our children – deserve better. They deserve action from Congress now,” Shaheen tweeted.
Shaheen is also the only member of the delegation not up for re-election this November.
Progressives argue gun control is popular with Granite State voters. They point to a 2019 poll commissioned by the anti-gun organization Everytown for Gun Safety which found 85 percent of New Hampshire voters support criminal background checks for all gun purchases and 81 percent support “red flag” laws.
All four members of New Hampshire’s federal delegation support a ban on “assault weapons” — a term none of the members would define when asked by NHJournal. (Leading firearms reporter Stephen Gutowski calls it “a nebulous term with a definition that varies from statute to statute.”)
Hassan and Pappas apparently have their doubts. They rarely mention gun control on the campaign trail. When they do, they use the phrase “common-sense gun laws,” rather than specific references to legislation they have supported. That includes an “assault weapons” ban that would block the sale of AR-15s — many of which are manufactured in New Hampshire.
Ending lawsuit protections for gun makers is a particularly tricky issue in New Hampshire where companies like Sig Sauer are major players in the state’s economy. In his speech, Biden compared those gun manufacturers to Big Tobacco and suggested they are shielded from lawsuits in cases of wrongdoing.
“We should repeal the liability shield that often protects gun manufacturers from being sued for the death and destruction caused by their weapons. They’re the only industry in this country that has that kind of immunity,” he said.
That is factually incorrect. Under the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms” Act, gun makers “can still be held liable for damages resulting from defective products, breach of contract, criminal misconduct, and other actions for which they are directly responsible.” It simply prevents people from suing gun makers if someone uses one of their guns to commit a crime. Allowing such lawsuits could be devastating to New Hampshire’s gun manufacturing industry.
Both Hassan and Pappas declined to answer any questions about their positions on gun control from NHJournal. Hassan did, however, did give a statement to PBS last week when asked what action she thinks should be taken on guns:
“The news out of Texas is every parent’s worst nightmare, and I am praying for the children, their families, and the Uvalde community … I, like so many, cannot understand how we as a country allow this to keep happening at our schools, at grocery stores, at churches, and so many other places where everyone should feel safe. We owe it to our kids, families, and survivors to take action.”
Her statement did not mention any specific gun control legislation. In fact, it did not mention the word “gun.”
A search of Hassan’s press page on her Senate website finds no mention of guns since March 2021.
According to published reports, Biden has been unwilling to lobby senators directly on behalf of his gun control proposals.
Biden repeatedly urged Congress Thursday night to “Do something. Just do something. For God’s sake, do something.”
It is unclear how many Granite State Democrats facing the voters this fall feel the same.