Demonstrators decry Sununu veto of gun bills, supporters say it will boost his popularity

  • Zandra Rice-Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, speaks in front activists protesting vetoes of gun-control bills Monday. ETHAN DEWITTMonitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/12/2019 5:30:19 PM

Ruby Carr wasn’t surprised when Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed three gun control bills on Friday. The rising senior at Coe Brown High in Northwood had – like many fellow activists – expected it. 

But the news still hit her with a thud. And Carr thinks it could hurt the Republican governor politically. 

“I don’t know what Sununu thinks he’s accomplishing, but I don’t think he’s going to get as much support in this next election,” Carr argued in an interview. 

It was a charged prediction, one of several made at a rally in Concord Monday by supporters of gun regulations in protest of the governor’s action.

Three days after Sununu vetoed bills to impose tighter state background checks, a blanket firearms ban in schools, and a three-day waiting period for firearms purchases, some demonstrators have decried the actions as an abandonment. 

Others on the right have cheered him on. 

“The governor was correct,” said JR Hoell, a former Dunbarton representative and active board member on the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition. “We have a stronger state constitution than the federal one, and these bills would have disarmed the law-abiding, would have done nothing to prevent the tragedies recently and would have made our citizens less safe.”

In Concord, Carr was one of several dozen there to protest, many wearing red shirts identifying themselves with “Moms Demand Action,” a national group pushing for gun regulations in the wake of mass shootings. 

“We are here to say we will not forget this,” said Zandra Rice-Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, a grassroots group on the left. Rice Hawkins said that the group would make appearances at each of Sununu’s public events during his re-election campaign to keep the issue at the fore.

“We will not let it be buried,” she said. 

Carr, 17, has had some experience in the political arena; as a member of the state’s Legislative Youth Advisory Council, she helped that group vote in favor of the gun reform bills earlier this year. And she had long been acquainted with the fight over gun control across the country. 

Yet it wasn’t until the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in Februrary 2018, though, that she became an active demonstrator. 

“I started actually because of a conversation in my biology class,” she said. “It was a few days after the shooting and we were all really concerned about it.”

Conversations turned to outreach, which evolved to rallying at the State House last year. And the effort brought her out to Concord Monday morning to voice her disagreement.

In his veto message, Sununu cited what he called strong state constitutional tradition and pointed to New Hampshire’s crime statistics, which are low compared to other states.

“New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the nation, and we have a long and proud tradition of responsible firearm stewardship,” he wrote.

Some on Monday disputed that framing. 

Rep. Katherine Rogers, a longstanding advocate of tighter gun control, took head on Sununu’s assertion that New Hampshire was one of the safest states. The day after Sununu’s veto, Rogers said, the headlines had included plenty of gun-related crime.

“‘Man charged with killing wife in home’; ‘House of worship to receive grants to bolster security after hate crimes’; ‘Two men in custody after gunfire in Dollar General’; ‘Police search Holiday Inn in Concord for attempted murder suspect,’” Rogers read. 

The vetoes, she argued, stood in the way of bringing that violence down. 

“...Governor, with all respect, if you’re not taking steps toward slowing down the gun violence, then you are complicit in the results on the streets,” she added later. 

Second amendment advocates took issue with that charge Monday. “We need to hold those who do the crimes accountable,” said Kate Day, a grassroots Republican organizer in the State House Monday. “It;s not the governor’s fault. It’s the one who committed the crime.

A spokesman for the governor, Ben Vihstadt, declined to comment on how the vetoes might affect the governor’s re-election prospects. But Hoell argued it could actually boost them.

“The vast majority of citizens don’t believe that these bills will make us safer,” Hoell said. “I think it will give him more support not less.”

Meanwhile, gun control activists plan to continue the pressure. And Rogers say s the legislative fight isn’t over. “These bills will be refiled,” she said, addressing reporters.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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