NH News
5:41 am
Wed December 11, 2013

New Hampshire Mothers Join National Effort For Tighter Gun Control Laws

Christy Hegarty, Jill Pare, and Doreen Wachenschwanz gather at Janet Groat's home to discuss advocacy strategies.
Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

  Over the year that has passed since the mass shooting in Newtown, CT, gun control advocates have made little headway – whether at the State House in Concord, or the capitol building in DC.  Now, in every state including New Hampshire, mothers are banding together to fight for what they call “gun sense.”

Mothers Demand Tighter Gun Laws

Christy Hegarty’s daughter Catie remembers December 14th of last year. She was in the fifth grade. She says the shock of that day hasn’t gone away. “It’s scary.  Whenever we have lockdowns, even if it’s a drill, it reminds me [of Sandy Hook].  Is some crazy man going to come into our school and hurt us?”

That’s not something a mom wants to hear her daughter say.

Christy Hegarty says “It’s horrible! I get the chills, even thinking about it right now.”  Hegarty is one of about 125,000 moms who have joined forces to demand stronger gun safety laws, like closing background check loopholes, and banning assault weapons. 

They call their movement Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, and they model themselves after the grassroots campaign of the 1980s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Janet Groat heads up the organization’s New Hampshire chapter.

She says “I think some of these women were thinking ‘Congress, the Senate, someone will do something.’”

Sixth grader Catie Hegarty and other mothers and children decorated bell-shaped letters with messages to lawmakers asking for stronger gun control laws.
Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

  But one year after 20 children and 6 teachers were killed by a troubled young man with an assault weapon, few changes have been made either on Capitol Hill, or at the State House in Concord.

Gun Control Supporters Grow Complacent

Robert Spitzer is a political science professor at SUNY Cortland. He says according to polls after Newtown, “most Americans generally favor stronger gun laws.”

Spitzer is a member of the National Rifle Association, and has written books on the history of the NRA, the Second Amendment and gun control issues.

He says even though a majority of Americans support gun control laws like closing background check loopholes, for gun control supporters those issues often get overshadowed by bigger concerns, like the economy.  So while pressure for legislation rises after shootings like Newtown, it wanes quickly. On the other hand, Spitzer says, “the anti-gun control forces are in this with both feet. Their intensity on this issue is very, very strong.”

Christy Hegarty says she understands why that might be. “I mean, no one really wants to sit around and think about how people are dying every day from gun violence,” she says.

So, Hegarty says, it’s up to mothers like her to take the lead. Of course, mothers aren’t alone here. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have one group, and Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns is another.  The latter has been spending heavily.

All three organizations say they support 2nd amendment rights, and are fighting for tighter background checks and other controls. 

But they haven’t had success. The U.S. Senate voted down bipartisan gun control legislation last spring.  New Hampshire‘s Kelly Ayotte was one of the Senators who voted against expanded background checks. But, Spitzer says, among the states, the story is a little different.

“At least 9 states have enacted significantly tougher gun laws,” he says.

New Hampshire was not among them.  Democratic Senator Martha Fuller Clark says this time last year, she and others who favor stronger gun safety laws hoped there wouldn’t be a need for action at the state level.

“At that point,” she says, “the conversation was ‘let’s wait and see what comes out of Washington,’ because in some ways it makes sense that there be uniform regulations and controls.”

NH Sees New Gun Laws In 2014

Debates over guns happen pretty much every year in Concord.  This year,  lawmakers have indicated they plan to file at least a dozen bills related to gun issues.

Bills to limit and bills to expand gun rights will be on the docket.  These include expanding background checks and banning assault rifles as well as limiting access to gun records.

Southern New Hampshire University Political Scientist Dean Spiliotes predicts that few stand a chance of passing.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for any new gun control measures to get through the state legislature,” he says, “so long as you have a Republican Senate or at least one chamber controlled by Republicans who generally have opposed these measures.”

GOP leaders in the Senate see this issue as a matter of protecting second amendment rights.

Nevertheless, Janet Groat with Moms Demand Action isn’t deterred. She says she and her growing list of New Hampshire moms are in it for the long haul. They’re recruiting new members, writing to legislators, and working the media circuit:

“We are not going to be silent.  It’s going to take all of us raising our voices, in unison, repeatedly, strategically, to make a difference,” she says.  “No, we’re not fazed by the fact that there is an opposition.”

And it’s with that kind of resolution that Groat, Hegarty, and a small crowd of other moms will gather in downtown Durham this Saturday, to ring bells and make noise to demand change on the anniversary of the Newtown shooting.