Last week's mass shooting in Las Vegas has prompted what seems to be the perennial discussion of gun control. Steve Marchand, a Democrat running for governor and former mayor of Portsmouth, says politicians should be ready to talk about guns and legislate if necessary.
NHPR’s Peter Biello recently met Marchand outside a café in downtown Portsmouth to talk about guns and gun policy.
It’s been a week since we learned of what happened in Las Vegas. Our governor chose to respond one way, which was to say that now is not the time to talk about gun legislation. If you were governor at the time, what would you have said? What would you have done? What’s the proper response of a governor in a moment like that?
I think there are a couple of parts to the proper response. It’s always the right time to discuss, to consider, and then to act as it relates to reducing gun violence. This is a crisis. It is affecting lives—not just the victims and their families. It’s creating a level of fear and anxiety among both gun owners and those that do not own guns. So I think we need our leaders to articulate that this is a really big deal. This is a national-level crisis and that, at the governor’s level, we need to be prepared to act and treat it like the health and safety crisis that it really is.
So let me ask you: how would you act?
Well, the first thing is, as governor—and it’s something I would do early on as governor in 2019—is to do what the federal government will not do, which is to, whether through an executive order or commission or whatever the strongest form is at the state level, to classify this as a crisis, a healthcare crisis and a safety crisis.
At the national level, there has been such a reduction in the dollars for research—like at the CDC, for example—that would allow us to better understand the cause, the relationships between impacts, between factors, and thus how we might be able to effectively reduce gun-related violence in this country. But we are so scared at the federal level to do the research that might lead us to better understand what we could do that would actually make a real difference, that it makes it difficult for us to have the kind of conversation and policy discussion that will make the kind of impact that we all want to make on this issue.
Are you prepared, at this point, to legislate restrictions to either certain types of guns or the size of a gun’s magazine?
This would ideally be done at the federal level, because of the challenge you face when you are a neighbor of several other states and the portable nature of guns and the accessories that create a lot of the challenges we face. One element is: I don’t understand the reluctance to move towards universal background checks. That’s not the end of the road, and it will not solve all the problems, but in almost any objective, thoughtful analysis, improving closing gun-show loopholes related to background checks, is the beginning of a comprehensive solution. For me, that has to be part of the conversation.
I think we also want to make a statement—both in improving public policy and a cultural statement—that automatic and certain AR-15-type semi-automatic weapons have nothing to do with what the second amendment and its original intentions had in mind.
Would you support a ban on the AR-15 or, more broadly, weapons that can shoot so many bullets in a short period of time?
I’ve articulated in the past support for restrictions, if not an outright ban, on weapons of that power and caliber.
Do you own guns?
I do not.
It’s not something we had growing up. It’s not something I’m personally interested in, nor my wife and kids. It’s funny because both of my folks are immigrants from Quebec, the Sherbrook area, and they met in Manchester and I was born and raised in Manchester. The family members I have on my dad’s side who do own firearms did in part because they were farmers. I have relatives who are retired dairy farmers in Pittsburg. My grandpa lived in West Stewartstown. And certainly up in rural Quebec. It was part of a life that involved, for example, having to protect property from animals that might try to get livestock and this sort of thing. It was hunting.
I respect that tremendously. It’s not something I do, but I think it’s an important and valuable part, essential part in some cases, of the life of folks in Coos County or in my family’s case southern Quebec.
Governor Sununu’s first legislative achievement is the repeal of legislation requiring a license for concealed carry. As governor, would you make a point to reinstate the license requirement for concealed carry?
We should reinstate the license requirement. I did not hear an outcry prior to this coming up in early 2017 to eliminate the requirement. It struck me as a solution in search of a problem, and I think it sent a horrible message out of the gate for a governor, Chris Sununu. To come out of the box with that was unusual and frankly set the tone for a lot of the public policy areas that we ended up spending time on over the subsequent nine months.