The public displayed many emotions following the tragic shooting of Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney and four fellow officers- grief, respect, love, empathy, concern and compassion. Signs up and down Route 1, as well as those further inland, bore messages honoring Maloney. Thousands turned out for Maloney’s memorial service at Winnacunnet High School to pay their respects. Thousands more ran a 5.6 mile race which raised $45,000 for Maloney’s family. All these feelings and actions were appropriate and well deserved. Chief Maloney and his comrades are heroes to us all.
However, one emotion commonly expressed seemed out of place – surprise. We were surprised that such a violent event could occur here in tranquil New Hampshire. Upon reflection, we shouldn’t have been surprised. The storm clouds preceding the deluge of violence have been gathering here for quite some time. And when the clouds broke, it rained violence for days.
On April 12, Police Chief Maloney and four other officers were gunned down in Greenland. The same day, the shooter, Cullen Mutrie, shot his accomplice, Brittany Tibbetts, and then turned the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide. Also on April 12, two men were found dead in Dalton. Christopher Smith allegedly shot and killed Joseph Besk and wounded Wayne Ainsworth, then turned the gun on himself. On April 13. a nine year old boy in Hollis died after apparently accidentally shooting himself in the head with a shotgun.
On April 14, one man in Chesterfield who was shot multiple times died, and a second suffered gunshot wounds. On April 17, police found three people dead in the northern New Hampshire town of Lancaster. One, 44-year-old David Collins, was found dead at his home of apparent gunshot wounds. Two other bodies were found nearby in a burning pick-up truck. According to my count, during a six-day period, eight people were shot to death and six were wounded in New Hampshire. That total doesn’t include the two bodies found in the pick-up truck since the cause of their death was not revealed.
What caused this spate of violence? Obviously, guns were part of the equation. All these people were killed with guns. According to the Boston Globe (4/23/12), “New Hampshire has among the most lax gun control laws in the country” That fact is amply illustrated by the case of Cullen Mutrie.
According to the Portsmouth Herald (4/13/12), “On July 24, 2010, Mutrie committed the crime of simple assault by grabbing his ex-girl friend by her hair and right arm. The victim obtained an emergency restraining order and as a condition of the order, Mutrie was ordered to surrender all firearms, according to court records.”
According to a report filed by officer Wayne M. Young (Boston Globe 4/14/12), “Mutrie kept at least five guns stashed in his home, in his car, and on his body, including one in the storage chest of his living room coffee table.” In accordance with the court order, these guns were taken away from Mutrie.
On April 12, 2012, when police officers went to Mutrie’s home attempting to serve arrest warrants on Mutrie and his girl friend Brittany Tibbetts, his arsenal of guns had been more than replenished. According to a report by the Hampton-North Hampton Patch, police later seized “some rifles, a vest, cell phones, handguns, ammo magazines, ammunition, cartridge casings and bullets. state police also seized a shotgun wad, powder, drug paraphernalia, a bong, a digital scale, currency, Apple laptops, a Dell laptop and an Apple tower/monitor that police said were part of Mutrie’s extensive drug trafficking operation.”
Apparently, these replacement guns were easy to get. A Ruger .357 revolver recovered from Mutrie’s home was purchased on Jan. 16 by Brittany Tibbetts at a gun show in Manchester.
The firearms possessed by Mutrie far exceeded what might be needed by the average citizen to hunt or to defend his home against an invader. Pro-gun advocates often argue that law-abiding citizens need ready access to guns in order to protect themselves from people like Mutrie. The police who went to Mutrie’s home were law-abiding citizens. They were armed. Yet, even under these circumstances, they were not able to protect themselves against Mutrie’s onslaught.
The fact is that there are too many guns in New Hampshire, often in the hands of unstable people, and that they are too easy to obtain. Yet, the Republican-dominated legislature offers one bill after another to make access to and use of guns even easier.
A prime example is the “stand your ground” bill passed by Republicans into law in 2011 over Governor Lynch’s veto. Under this bill, a person who feels threatened has the right to shoot another person. Suppose two people argue, and one shoots and kills the other. If there are no witnesses, the shooter can falsely claim that he shot because he felt threatened. The dead person cannot rebut the shooter’s story. The shooter then goes free. That’s called legalized murder.
Guns are an ingrained part of the culture in New Hampshire, so it’s hard to get people to take a second look at their use. A second look is long overdue.