Sununu says feds should be the ones setting gun policy

  • Chris Sununu GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gov. Chris Sununu firmly believes New Hampshire has sound gun laws.

In some of his most expansive comments on gun control and school safety, Sununu repeatedly insisted “the federal level is the appropriate place” to implement any new laws restricting firearms.

Sununu highlighted his stances in a question-and-answer session with reporters and two radio interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, a week after 17 people were slain during a shooting at a Florida high school that’s reignited the divisive national debate over gun violence.

“What happened in Florida is a tragedy. We have to understand it. We have to hopefully learn from it,” Sununu said.

The governor’s comments came hours before the state House of Representatives downed a bill that would have prevented gun-free zones at the state’s public university and community college campuses. In a separate development minutes after, Democrats in the state Senate introduced a measure that would give local school boards the authority to ban weapons in designated safe school zones in their districts.

The governor repeatedly made clear he opposes such moves.

“If you start allowing the local jurisdictions to simply make their own rules as you go, you’re creating a huge problem. You need either state or federal law to dictate the carry provisions,” Sununu said in an interview on NHPR.

And he said on WKXL radio in Concord that “if you get down to the local level where you’re starting to ban a gun in one town and another, that’s going to create chaos in the system. That’s not a very efficient way of doing it. That’s not a very effective way of doing it.”

In a news conference with the Monitor and other news organizations, Sununu touted his administration’s aggressiveness in “making the investments in the communities, in the schools, for safer schools.”

Picking up on a theme he unveiled last week in his State of the State address, the governor highlighted the effort the state made “a year ago to make sure we were providing safer schools for our kids. So we’re in some ways very ahead of the game.”

And he listed the state grants that school systems across the Granite State are using for surveillance systems, secure doors, and other aspects of safety planning. Sununu also detailed what he described as the “huge investments in mental health” that his administration made last year to help diagnose adolescents with mental health issues.

“It’s really a multi pronged approach that we have to take to make sure our kids are going to school in a safe atmosphere and we’re providing resources to those who need some help,” Sununu said.

While the governor’s a major proponent of beefing up school security, he’s less receptive to new pushes for state legislation to limit the purchase of weapons.

“You’ve got to get to the crux of the problem. Everyone just wants to pass a single law that says we’re going to ban a gun or ban something. That’s not going to get it done necessarily. There’s not just one law that can get this done,” Sununu said.

“If you think by just banning an assault rifle, we’re just going to make everybody safer. I’m sorry. I just don’t see how that works because there’s all these other options out there,” he added.

“You’re walking a very dangerous line when you’re just picking off one weapon after another after another after another. Eventually you are going to get to the point we you are just taking people’s firearms away,” he said.

Sununu said that if there is to be such a debate, it “really has to happen on the federal level.”

But he argued that an AR-15 style gun, the weapon used by the teenage shooter at the Parkland, Fla., incident, “doesn’t necessarily fire any more rapidly than a lot of the 9 millimeters out there. So are we going to take those away, too? Let that debate happen at the federal level, but it’s a slippery slope.”

The top Democrat in the state Senate disagrees.

Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn told the Monitor that “talk is cheap. We need action.”

The North Country Democrat said people in his district understand the culture and use of guns. And he joked that “I have more guns than people in my district.”

Woodburn said when it comes to new gun measures, he believes “we can do it in a way that reflects our values and the customs of the state of New Hampshire.”

And he criticized Sununu, saying the governor “has been pistol-whipped by the NRA and the gun groups, and he’s trying to talk out of both sides of his mouth.”

In the wake of the Florida high school mass shooting, there have been new calls for “red flag laws,” which allow law enforcement to seize the weapons of believe to be a danger to themselves or others. Five states currently have these gun-violence restraining orders.

The governor argued that if criminal background check systems and laws that prevent people with mental illness from obtaining firearms are both working properly, there’s no need for “red flag laws.”

“I get a little wary of just giving a judge the arbitrary power to go and take your guns because he says it’s okay to do so,” Sununu said. “We have some of those pieces in place. If you want to strengthen those laws around mental illness, I’m all for having that debate. If you want to strengthen the accountability in that criminal background system, I think that would potentially be a positive move forward.”

New Hampshire happens to be the only New England state that does not disclose records of dangerously mentally ill people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The governor argued that the system needs to be strengthened and is concerned that people with minor mental illness issues could be “arbitrarily thrown on the list.”

“Are we going to participate in something that is going to arbitrarily throw a lot of people on that list that don’t deserve to be on that list,” Sununu asked. “If you want to strengthen that system, I’m all for that.”

With some Granite State pride, the governor touted that “we’re a very responsible state with firearms. We know a crisis like this could absolutely happen in New Hampshire. My focus right now is making sure that we’re prepared. That we can be preventative. That we can be responsive.”

Sununu said his most important job is to keep the state’s children safe.

“I don’t go out there and get abused on social media day after day because I find it all that much enjoyable,” he said. “What I do find enjoyable is knowing that we can make a difference for our kids down the road.”