N.H. Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Talks Gun Control in Lebanon

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand proposes changes to New Hampshire's gun laws during a news conference at Lebanon City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 27, 2018. Marchand proposed universal background checks to include private gun sales, a ban on “military-style semi-automatic weapons,” and empowering local communities to ban guns on school grounds. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Carly Geraci

  • Tom Toner, of Lyme, N.H., challenges Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand during a news conference on gun control at Lebanon City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 27, 2018. “The 2nd amendment is not about hunting, it's not about what type of rifle you have, it's about defending yourself from a tyrannical government,” said Lyme resident Tom Toner. “That's why we have the 2nd amendment.” (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Carly Geraci

  • Bonnie Scott, of Plainfield, N.H., left, raises her hand as Alex Wheelock, 9, of Plainfield, stands by her side during a news conference held by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand at Lebanon City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 27, 2018. Marchand is proposing a series of changes to New Hampshire’s gun laws. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Carly Geraci

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2018 12:11:37 PM
Modified: 2/28/2018 10:30:55 AM

Lebanon — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand on Tuesday proposed a series of gun control measures that he believes will reduce shootings and suicides in the Granite State.

Standing on the front steps of Lebanon City Hall, the former Portsmouth mayor took pains to contrast his approach to gun violence with that of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who he accused of doing nothing.

“His plan is to wait for Congress to act,” Marchand said of his potential 2018 opponent. “That is a plan that will fail, and he knows it because he does not want to have this conversation.”

Marchand’s call for new gun regulations comes two weeks after a teenager opened fire with an assault-style weapon and killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Fla., and amid a debate within New Hampshire about school districts’ authority to control who can take guns into schools.

Prevailing passivity about reforming gun laws doesn’t cut it anymore, Marchand told a crowd of about 30 people, not all of them sympathetic to his message. It’s time for New Hampshire to stop deferring to federal lawmakers and take matters into its own hands, he said.

“I think being governor is not a spectator sport. It is a participatory activity,” he said. “If there’s ever a time we need leadership, it is right now.”

Marchand’s proposals seek to prevent suicides, homicides, domestic violence and mass shootings, he said. They include instituting a universal background check system, a 48-hour waiting period for new gun purchases and banning assault rifles and bump stocks.

Marchand, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic gubernatorial primary two years ago, also called for reinstating the concealed carry permitting system that the Legislature abolished last year — a change that Sununu signed into law. He also advocated for so-called red-flag laws, which allow police to temporarily take away the guns of people deemed by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others.

A message left for the governor’s spokesman requesting comment wasn’t returned on Tuesday. Sununu has generally opposed calls to more strictly regulate firearms.

The proposals aren’t just a response to the Florida school shooting, Marchand said. Rather, they’re meant to prevent several different categories of gun deaths, he said.

Waiting periods and better background checks could prevent some suicides, which account for roughly two-thirds of all gun deaths every year, Marchand said, adding red-flag laws could prevent people suffering mental health crises from having firearms at their disposal.

“All I want to know is what works, what is the outcome? A significant reduction in gun violence,” he said, urging pragmatism. “If we’re going to do that, we have to be more nuanced than the political argument usually takes.”

Marchand’s decision to announce his proposals in Lebanon was not accidental. The city’s school district is at the center of a controversy over New Hampshire’s gun laws.

In October, school officials updated the district’s policy on firearms by adding “school buildings” to a list of places where guns are banned.

The move drew the ire of a group of Republican lawmakers, who accused the district of breaking a state law that gives the Legislature sole authority for regulating guns. They submitted a bill that would have allowed courts to issue fines up to $5,000 to any public official found to be disregarding the law.

While the legislation was effectively killed by the House, at least for this session, earlier this month, Marchand pledged his support on Tuesday to repealing the law that prevents school districts from establishing their own policies.

However, Marchand’s ideas did receive some push-back from a group of gun advocates who attended the Lebanon event.

“The Second Amendment is not about hunting, it’s not about what type of rifle you have, it’s about defending yourself from a tyrannical government,” Lyme resident Tom Toner said. “That’s why we have the Second Amendment.”

Plainfield resident Bonnie Scott also was skeptical that gun laws could reduce violence, and instead advocated for Marchand to support the Gun Shop Project, an effort to educate firearms retailers and gun ranges in suicide prevention.

“More laws are not the answer. It’s identifying people who have problems and finding a compassionate way to deal with them, to help them,” she said.

The New Hampshire Republican Party responded to his proposals by issuing a release saying Marchand “wants to take away your guns.”

“Steve Marchand’s gun confiscation plan is a ridiculous assault on the rights of law-abiding Granite Staters,” state GOP Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester said in the release.

During an interview last week on New Hampshire Public Radio, Sununu said he opposes red-flag laws. He also said gun control is a discussion “appropriate at the federal level,” and has ruled out supporting an assault weapons ban.

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

Sununu has touted efforts to help schools prepare for a potential attack through building modifications.

The state recently approved $16 million to assist schools in re-enforcing windows and doors, building new exterior locks and purchasing early detection systems. The state Bureau of Emergency Management also has worked with schools since 2012 to assess and review their preparedness, Sununu, who took office in 2017, pointed out in a recent news release.

Walling off schools isn’t the way to solve gun violence, Marchand said on Tuesday.

“I do not believe that the solution to the gun violence problem we face, as it relates to schools, is to in effect build a moat around schools with alligators on them, and then turn them into fortresses,” he said. He said he’s also opposed to arming teachers.

“I think it basically cedes the argument and says, ‘There’s not much we can do about the bigger problem of gun violence, so we might as well just arm up on the receiving end of it as well.’ ”

Marchand’s event came a day after Sununu announced the creation of a task force aimed at developing stronger school safety measures.

The Governor’s School Safety Preparedness Taskforce will include state leaders, law enforcement officials, educators and local officials, according to a news release. The group is expected to begin meeting regularly in the coming months.

The National Education Association — New Hampshire’s largest teacher’s union — also announced on Monday it would form a group to study gun violence, according to the Concord Monitor.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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