By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — More than 100 opponents of gun violence gathered at the State House Monday to demand Gov. Chris Sununu sign three bills which they believe would help protect the Granite State from mass gun violence.
Zandra Rice Hawkins, spokesman for Gun Sense New Hampshire, a project of Granite State Progress. which organized the event, said it is a “pivotal moment” following several mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.
She said the governor is on “the hot seat” to sign the three most important gun-related bills to pass this legislative session.
– House Bill 514, which creates a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm.
– House Bill 564, which clarifies the statewide “gun-free” school zones.
– House Bill 109, which closes background check loopholes for purchase of a firearm.
Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester signed the bills Monday afternoon, said Sara Persechino, the Senate spokesperson. The bills will next go to Governor Sununu for his action.
“So far, New Hampshire has been spared in this onslaught of gun violence and mass shootings–we’re one of just four states without a mass shooting since Sandy Hook. But I for one am not comfortable wishing and hoping that “luck” continues. We cannot wait for a tragedy like Dayton or El Paso to strike in our state to take action. That time is now. These bills are common sense preventative measures that will save lives,” Soucy said.
“I implore Governor Sununu to join the House, the Senate, and the people of New Hampshire in supporting these commonsense gun violence prevention efforts. At the very least, we ask today that he put politics aside and let these bills become law without his signature. Enough is enough.”
The large crowd, carrying signs and at times chanting “Enough is Enough” left the press conference, crossed the street and filed into the Executive Council chamber in hopes the governor would come out to address their concerns.
The governor was in the building, but his staff said he was in previously scheduled meetings and did not come out to speak to the crowd.
Sununu’s spokesman provided the following statement from the governor, but didn’t answer whether he will sign the bills:
“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. Here in New Hampshire, we have taken multiple steps to address our mental health needs and to build a more welcoming and tolerant state.
“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,” Sununu said.
Opponents of the gun-related bills also attended the press conference in the legislative office building.
Caleb Dyer of Pelham, a former state legislator stood alongside Brennan Robinson of Webster, who was carrying a rifle, who said that measures such as those included in the bills only protect the shooter in such situations.
Katie Henry, a 2018 graduate of Concord High School, said lockdown drills and buzzers on locked doors to get into school is what her generation has had to deal with.
She said while they went through one such drill her teacher said to the class that it was “only a matter of time until it happened here.”
“Here’s the thing: I know that Mr. Sununu knows all this. I know the governor knows that the children of this state are in fear, and in danger. I know he knows that the teachers of this state are being put in the line of fire. The scientific consensus is that having more guns around makes no one safer- it just escalates already hostile situations,” Henry said.
“Governor Sununu, I’m asking you directly, right now, to do the bare minimum to protect students, teachers, and citizens of our state.”
State Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, sponsor of one of the bills, noted that the governor tweeted Saturday evening about the El Paso shootings, which has left at least 22 dead.
He called it “nothing short of devastating,” and that he was sending prayers to those impacted by the “senseless act of violence” at an El Paso Wal-Mart.
“For those who say we cannot pass laws that will curb the violence, you are ignoring the statistics that clearly rebut your claim,” Rogers said. “Look at the numbers: States that require criminal background checks on all handgun sales report 46 percent fewer women are fatally shot by their partners, 48 percent fewer incidents of police shot and killed in the line of duty and 64 percent fewer guns are trafficked out of state.”
“A waiting period will prevent suicides,” Rogers said.
In a statement, Rep. Mary Heath D-Manchester, who could not attend, said her bill HB 564 is critical for school districts to have the authority to put in place policies to assure schools have safe environments for children that are gun-free with the exception of those individuals designated to carry weapons to safeguard the children and school environment.
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, who also did not attend, offered a statement distributed to the press.
“This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, this is a New Hampshire and an American issue, and it is going to take all of us working together for the common good to find a solution,” Shurtleff said.
Members of the Kent Street Coalition, which have worked on the passage of the gun bills since the beginning of the winter, indicated they are getting together this summer to discuss what further measures they would like to see brought forward in the next legislative session.