In the wake of this weekend’s mass shootings, gun-control advocates in New Hampshire are calling on Chris Sununu to sign off on three gun-related bills.
During a rally today in Concord, supporters said the measures are the bare minimum the governor could do, but opponents say the laws are misguided.
NHPR’s Todd Bookman covered the rally and joins All Things Considered host Peter Biello to talk about what happened there.
Note: Transcript has been edited for clarity
First Todd, describe what happened today and what led up to this moment.
So, this event today obviously came together quickly in the wake of the shootings in Texas and Ohio, but the central theme of the event - the need for stricter gun laws - that’s a topic that’s been brewing in the statehouse since Democrats took control of the legislature last year.
The rally itself filled the lobby of one of the government office buildings in Concord. It was organized by progressive groups. There were people wearing t-shirts from the March for Our Lives movement, and Every Town for Gun Safety. Lots of people were holding signs calling for an end to gun violence.
Lawmakers and advocates and students took turns at the podium. This is Katie Henry, a graduate of Concord High School and now a college student:
"Governor Sununu, you have a choice. You can take action, take this moment on the heels of two more massacres in our country, and to try to prevent one here. Or you can send your thoughts and prayers and hope it doesn’t happen here. I sincerely hope you make the right choice."
This event seemed to have an intended audience of one: Governor Sununu. What is his choice, at Katie Henry put it?
Democrats in the state legislature passed three gun-related measures earlier this session. They are not yet on the governor’s desk, but they likely will be there soon, and he’ll have to decide whether to veto them, sign them or let them become law without his signature.
The first bill would create a three-day waiting period on commercial gun sales. The second measure would create gun-free school zones - parents dropping off or picking up their kids would need to keep or leave firearms inside of their vehicle. Law enforcement, school resources officers would be exempt.
Then, the third bill would require background checks on basically all commercial gun sales. These bills passed almost entirely along party lines earlier this year.
Has the Governor signalled what he may do?
In the past, he has said he believes that the state’s current gun regulations are essentially good as they are. What’s interesting is that in 2016, during a debate, gun-control advocates like to remind the governor that he said that he does support universal background checks. We have tape of that:
"People know that I’m a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I do also support universal background checks, where appropriate."
Sununu went on to say that guns have to be kept away from domestic violence situations.
It’s unclear if he will go along with the recently passed legislation. In a statement released today, the governor says, "Like the entire nation, I was horrified by the senseless acts of hate and violence this past weekend. What we must say unequivocally is that hate, white supremacy, and acts of domestic terror have not place in New Hampshire or anywhere in this country. While we will never know all the things that lead a person to commit acts of evil, we must be mindful that the mental health crisis gripping our state and nation is a significant factor."
The statement didn't mention the three measures soon to be on his desk.
It’s worth remembering the first piece of legislation Sununu signed after getting elected was a gun bill.
That’s right. He signed into law a bill that repealed the requirement that anyone looking to carry a concealed weapon needed to first get a permit. Gun-rights backers, groups like the NRA, certainly celebrated that signing.
How are those gun-rights supporters handling the current push to pass these stricter laws in New Hampshire, especially in the wake of this weekend’s events?
Well a small group of counter-protestors did attend today’s rally. They were far outnumbered, but they caught everyone’s attention. Men and women entered the lobby of the building carrying firearms...this was already a tense, crowded gathering, and their appearance openly carrying weapons didn’t go without notice. A state trooper was quickly on scene.
After the rally ended, just to bring home how divided the state and the nation is on this topic, a guy named Brennan Robinson, standing maybe 20 feet away from the podium where these students and anti-gun activists just spoke, he’s there giving interviews while holding a rifle.
Here’s some of what he had to say:
“Absolutely, I want the homeless, I want the poor, I want everyone to have a gun. I would love it if the average citizen was armed so when some psycho like this goes on, he gets maybe zero people. When he decides to pull his gun out, and start pointing it at people, I want the citizens in that Walmart to fire right back and take him down.”
Opponents of new gun restrictions like to point out that New Hampshire has some of the loosest gun laws in the country, and is often ranked as the safest state: something they say is no coincidence. Ask supporters of stricter gun laws and they’ll say it’s just a matter of time before one of these tragedies happens here.