The most surprising aspect of Gov. Chris Sununu’s long-anticipated vetoes of three new gun control measures is how many people appear to be genuinely surprised.
Democratic Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, called the vetoes “deeply disappointing.” The national anti-gun group Giffords, founded by former congresswoman and gun-violence victim Gabby Giffords tweeted:
“SHAMEFUL: While the nation grapples w/ several mass shootings, NH @GovChrisSununu decided to veto three gun safety bills that would have protected his constituents from these tragedies.
“Voters will remember.”
Yes, they will. In fact, that’s exactly what Gov. Sununu is counting on.
While it is true that “the nation grapples” with gun crime, New Hampshire does not. It has the lowest murder rate in America and a far lower gun homicide rate than its neighbor to the south, Massachusetts–a state with gun laws so draconian that the local police chief can override your right to own a handgun because he or she simply doesn’t want you to have one.
And the nation’s “grappling” doesn’t end with the horrors of mass shootings. Voters aren’t convinced that the sort of laws Sununu vetoed will do any good. When Second Amendment advocates argue more rigorous background checks or waiting periods won’t solve the mass murder problem, most Americans agree.
Just hours before Sununu’s veto, for example, The Economist/YouGov released a new poll showing 56 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, but only 32 percent believe “new gun laws would have prevented the El Paso shooting.”
And then there’s the unchanging truth about the gun issue: only one percent of voters consistently name it their top priority. Yes, that number spikes after a high-profile shooting like El Paso, but the passion soon fades. And of that one percent, most are pro-gun, not pro-gun control.
That’s particularly true in New Hampshire, a state with the third-highest gun ownership rate. As former New Hampshire Congressman Dick Swett — a Democrat whose career was likely ended by his vote for an assault weapons ban in 1994 — said this week, “the attitude in New Hampshire about guns hasn’t changed significantly, although the Democratic Party has become stronger” since he was in office.
Gov. Sununu understands all this. And proving yet again he’s pretty good at this “politics” thing, he used these facts to his advantage.
“Today, I vetoed three anti-Second Amendment bills,” Sununu said. “These 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.” In his official statement, Sununu added, “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.”
It’s all there: Labelling the laws “anti-Second Amendment,” pointing out their likely ineffectiveness, and aligning himself with New Hampshire culture and tradition. What Granite State Democrat wants to be on the other side of that?
While Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke tried to nationalize the issue by denouncing his vetoes, Sununu reminded his fellow Granite Staters that we’re different and he’s one of us.
Local Democrats seem to get it. The statement from frequently feisty NH Dem chairman Ray Buckley reads like uninspired boilerplate: “Sununu cares more about his campaign contributors like the NRA and gun manufacturers than he does about the people of this state. And that’s all you need to know about Chris Sununu.”
And that statement is probably all you need to know about Democrats and the gun issue.
Also, don’t overlook the win Democrats handed Sununu by rushing the bills over to him in the wake of the mass shootings. The timing allowed him to use them as cover for three other more problematic vetoes he issued the same day, including a minimum wage hike.
Meanwhile, Sununu’s pro-gun base is delighted.
“I’m happy Governor Sununu chose Granite Staters over Michael Bloomberg lobbyists and ‘held the line’ against the gun control [bills] Democrats passed that will do nothing to stop criminals, but everything to harm law-abiding Granite Staters, especially women,” Kimberly Morin, president of the Women’s Defense League, told NHJournal.
“Gov. Sununu held firm to his word and gave all three bills the BIG FAT RED VETO they deserve,” Paul Marquis of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition said in a statement.
And besides, does anyone believe that activist Democrats angered by Sununu’s veto would ever vote for him, whether he signed these bills or not?
“The political calculation is straight forward. The veto plays to his base, is consistent with his stated position on guns, and will not be the focus of voters come Election Day,” says Wayne F. Lesperance, Professor of Political Science at New England College. “What’s more, while New Hampshire Democrats might have praised a decision not to veto, it’s unlikely that such a move would earn him their votes.”