After mass shootings, gun control debate hits New Hampshire 

  • A crowd came to hear speakers and lend their voices asking New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to sign the three bills on his desk concerning gun control in the state on Monday at the Legislative Office Building. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Julia Fox, 6, came with her older sisters and her grandmother to hear speakers and lend their voices asking Gov. Chris Sununu to sign the three bills concerning gun control in the state Monday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Counter-protester Brennan Robinson of Manchester brought a rifle to the event at the Legislative Office Building on Monday, where the group urged Gov. Chris Sununu to sign the three bills on his desk.

Monitor staff
Published: 8/5/2019 2:42:18 PM

It was an occasion practically primed for tension.

Gun control and gun rights supporters clashed at the State House on Monday – two days after a pair of deadly mass shootings rocked the country, and hours before a trio of firearms bills headed to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk.

Nearly 200 supporters of gun control poured into the Legislative Office Building on Monday afternoon, pleading with Sununu, a Republican, to sign the Democratically-passed gun regulation bills.

Waving signs and swapping turns at a podium, activists invoked a Saturday morning shooting in El Paso, Texas, that left at least 20 dead and an early Sunday morning shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine. And they urged Sununu to pass the regulations, which would close background loopholes, impose waiting periods and create gun-free school zones.

“I know the governor knows that the children of this state are in fear and in danger,” said Katie Henry, a rising college sophomore and former Concord High School student, advocating for the gun-free school zones. “... Governor Sununu, I’m asking you directly, right now, to do the bare minimum to protect the students, teachers and citizens of our state.”

Then came the firearms. Quietly, a small group of counter-protesters filed into the back of the room, each of them armed. Most had handguns; one man carried a Remington shotgun, muzzle pointed up. One of them unfurled a New Hampshire flag.

The effect was immediate. Heads snapped to the back of the room, phone cameras leapt into action, and clusters of advocates nervously edged to the opposite side of the room. Eventually, state police security arrived to monitor the scene. When the press event concluded, several gun control advocates stayed behind to engage with the gun owners, which sometimes came to shouting.

For the counter-protesters, though, the action was meant to make a statement, not to intimidate anyone, they said.

“I would like it to be so normal to carry guns that the question isn’t even asked,” said Caleb Dyer, a former state representative and Libertarian who said he walks everywhere armed. “I wish that people were not afraid that I was carrying a firearm. It’s like any other tool that I have in my car.”

The verbal standoff was one in a series of arresting scenes in Concord, as national tensions around guns and the laws regulating them have boiled to the extreme. An hour later, dozens of activists flooded the Executive Council chambers outside of Sununu’s office, peppering members of the governor’s staff with questions on his position.

And it came as three pieces of legislation were officially released by the Senate over to the governor’s desk, giving him about a week to design to sign or veto them. House Bill 109 would create a state background check system for firearms purchases; House Bill 514 would create a three-business-day waiting period to purchase a firearm; and House Bill 564 would mandate all New Hampshire schools be firearms-free, while giving school districts discretion in allowing exceptions.

In a statement, Sununu did not comment on his position on the bills. But he condemned the actions of the shooters – one of whom has alleged white supremacist ties – and sought to highlight efforts he’s made toward improving school safety without changing the state’s firearms laws.

“Like the entire nation, I was horrified by the senseless acts of hate and violence this past weekend,” Sununu said. “What we must say unequivocally is that hate, white supremacy, and acts of domestic terror have no place in New Hampshire or anywhere in this country.”

Sununu has previously said he wouldn’t make any changes to existing gun laws.

After the shootings in Texas and Ohio that left 31 people dead, Sununu tweeted that he had directed flags to fly at half-staff to honor the victims.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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