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NH’s Gov. Sununu vetoes gun control bills, says current laws are ‘well-crafted and fit our culture’

Governor Chris Sununu (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Released)

Gov. Chris Sununu dashed the hopes of gun control advocates Friday vetoing all three pending bills by concluding current laws were “well-crafted and fit our culture of responsible gun ownership and individual freedom.”

“New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the nation, and we have a long and proud tradition of responsible firearm stewardship. Our laws are well-crafted and fit our culture of responsible gun ownership and individual freedom,” Sununu wrote in his veto message.

The two-term Newfields Republican did not address any of the pros and cons of the three bills at issue. They would have required commercial background checks (HB 109), imposed a three-day waiting period (HB 514) and created a modified gun-free zone around school property (HB 564).

Sununu did list actions the state has taken to protect the public from gun violence.

“Our focus as a nation must be on addressing the root causes of hate and violence. Here in New Hampshire, we have taken multiple steps to address our mental health needs and to build a more welcoming and tolerant state,” Sununu wrote.

“From the school safety task force, to rebuilding our state’s mental health system, including the largest investment of resources in decades, to establishing the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and to establishing the state’s first Civil Rights Unit to step up prosecution of hate crimes, we are taking major steps to ensure the safety of our citizens is paramount.”

Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said Sununu’s vetoes thwart the will of the voters who support these “common sense” measures.

“That’s why it is so deeply disappointing that in the midst of a national crisis and in the wake of two mass shootings, Governor Sununu is holding New Hampshire back from making progress on gun violence prevention with his vetoes of three common sense public safety bills, including background checks — which 90% of Americans support,” Soucy said. “Senate Democrats continue to stand with the majority of Granite Staters who are calling for common sense gun violence prevention. Together, we will make a difference.”

One of the first bills Sununu signed into law as governor in 2017 repealed the permit required for citizens to carry a concealed handgun.

Sununu said New Hampshire’s Second Amendment was even stronger than its federal counterpart.

“This language provides what many believe to be more expansive legal protections for gun ownership than the second amendment to the United States Constitution,” he said. “These three bills would not solve our national issues nor would they prevent evil individuals from doing harm, but they would further restrict the constitutional rights of law abiding New Hampshire citizens.”

Former State Rep. J.R. Hoell, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, thanked Sununu and lashed out at his critics.

“The lefties and anti-liberty folk were quick to exploit the tragedies in Ohio and Texas for their own political opportunism. Instead of focusing on real solutions, the left went right for the guns,” Hoell said. “Governor Sununu held firm to his word and gave all three bills the big fat red veto they deserve, however, our work is not done.”

Sununu has now vetoed more than 40 bills, many of which are likely to be taken up in call back sessions later this fall.

“These bills are not dead until the veto is sustained,” Hoell warned.

There were a smattering of Republicans who endorsed one or all of the bills, but there are enough GOP opponents in both the House of Representatives and state Senate to sustain Sununu’s vetoes if they hold firm.

Rep. Kathi Rogers, D-Concord, said New Hampshire has the 24th highest rate of exporting guns used in crimes, meaning three times as many guns sold by New Hampshire end up being weapons used in a crime.

“Governor, thoughts and prayers are not enough. Silence on gun violence is unacceptable; to obstruct the passage of this critical legislation is to be complicit with the violence,” Rogers said.

Earlier this week, about 100 gun control activists held a rally to pressure Sununu into allowing one if not all three bills to become law without his signature.

But with the vetoes, statements from Democratic leaders against Sununu turned partisan.

“To know that lives will likely be lost over the next year because our governor blocked this bill is sickening,” said House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, of the waiting-period bill. “Every year in New Hampshire there are over 100 deaths by suicide that involve a firearm.”

Last week’s gun control rally came two hours after President Trump condemned “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” in a televised address to the nation after deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

Trump did endorse the concept of tougher federal criminal background checks but offered no specifics and suggested it should be tied to his long-desired and politically stalled immigration reform package.

During his first campaign for governor in 2016, candidate Sununu voiced support for tougher background checks of gun sales, but wasn’t specific about any policy that could gain his endorsement.


© 2019 The New Hampshire Union Leader