CONCORD, N.H. – With dueling chants, what was supposed to be a respectful presentation of the names of those lost to gun violence since the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, CT, turned into bedlam on June 18 at the Statehouse.
The No New Names bus tour, sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was parked outside the plaza, to read the names of thousands of victims of gun violence and hold a rally later in the day.
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At 9 a.m., clergy members, including two from Concord, began reading names of the more than 6,000 who have died since the Newton shootings.
Later, at 3:30 p.m., one gun control advocate, John Cantin, dropped of a list of the names of those killed by guns at U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Manchester office, pressing the case that the country needs better background checks.
At 5 p.m., anti-gun violence advocates stopped reading the names and began to talk about why they were there.
Judy Stadtman, the co-founder of NH Project for Safer Communities, of Portsmouth, said the event was held to memorialize and mourn those that died, deaths that were preventable, had there been laws that kept guns out of the hands of dangerous and irresponsible people.
“The one thing that we can know for certain is that the epidemic level of gun violence in the United States is not an inevitable, naturally occurring feature of contemporary civilization,” she said. “It’s a form of death and destruction invented and practiced exclusively by humans, using weapons designed by humans, to increase our capacity to kill.”
About two minutes into her speech, as Stadtman began to criticize Congress and Ayotte for rejecting new laws that she said would ensure that only those who were qualified and intended to do no harm would own guns, counter protesters began to boo. Stadtman asked members of her side to close in ranks in a circle.
Protesters began to yell at each other with Stadtman and others chanting “background checks” and the other side chanting “freedom” and later, “go home.”
The Rev. Steven Silver of Lebanon began to read more names while gun advocates yelled “shameless.” A few anti-gun violence advocates yelled back, "Have you no respect for the dead?"
Cantin of Manchester, who was injured by gun fire while his daughter was murdered by an estranged husband in 2009, began to speak about his efforts trying to convince Ayotte to support the Toomey-Manchin background check bill. He was approached by Daniel Musso who challenged his speech for a few minutes and then walked away. Later, Musso was Tasered and arrested by Concord Police, and he faces charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and simple assault.
The back and forth continued throughout the rally, with more names being read and more chanting. There were a number of side arguments between both sides. State representatives like J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, were trying to explain their positions while SEIU activist Kenneth Roos stepped in to make sure the No More Names supporters stayed out of trouble.
Jack Kimball, of Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC, who assisted in throwing together the counter protest, said he was surprised at the lack of gun advocates who were in attendance for the event.
“I thought that their turnout would be much larger,” he said. “I think, probably, we have as many as they have, and we’ll have more.”
He said he hoped to see less animosity and emotionality around the issue in the future.
“Believe me, everyone feels terrible,” he said. “(Sandy Hook) was tragic … I shed tears watching that, the whole week … (but) if the teacher at Sandy Hook had a weapon, I don’t think we’d be here today.”
Jeff Grappone, speaking for Ayotte, criticized the group for spending millions on “false attacks against” New Hampshire's junior senator. The gun control bill desired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the group’s supporters, “Unfortunately … wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy in Newtown,” Grappone noted.
“Senator Ayotte voted for legislation that had bipartisan support to fix the current broken background check system, increase the prosecution of those who illegally seek to obtain firearms, and provide additional resources for school safety, while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said via email. “She also worked across party lines to pass an amendment to strengthen the nation's mental health system.”