NEW HAMPSHIRE—While Democratic presidential hopefuls are showing a united front among gun control plans, not all conservative New Hampshire voters are impressed.
Keith Cox, manager of 619DW Guns and Ammo in Merrimack, suggested that the Democratic candidates were forced to adopt anti-gun policies in order to appease their base.
“They’re all horrible because they have to be,” he said. “They’re all just catch phrases and hot key words.”
Michael Bennet, Mike Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, and Elizabeth Warren have all said they plan to ban high-capacity semi-automatic rifles, which are often referred to as assault weapons.
The same group of candidates, along with Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Tom Steyer, has also come out in favor of establishing a universal background check system to register gun owners.
Perhaps the lack of difference between the candidates’ positions on firearms explained the lack of discussion on the topic at Friday night’s Democratic debate. Only two candidates chimed in.
“In Vermont, until the last two years we had virtually no gun control legislation,” Sanders said defending his history of not supporting gun control regulation. “The world has changed and my views have changed. We need universal background checks; we need to close the gun show loophole.”
Rather than focus on specific gun control policies, Warren argued that campaign finance reforms are needed to reduce the influence of the National Rifle Association before any new gun control measures can get through the legislature.
Bloomberg is not on the ballot in New Hampshire, but he has long been a prominent figure in the national push for gun control as the founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is now a part of Everytown for Gun Safety.
“The biggest misconception around Mike’s plans for gun safety is that he is trying to take guns away,” wrote Brian Rich, who runs policy communication for the Bloomberg campaign, via email. “The priority from the start would be on building a background check system that really works to stop illegal gun sales.”
Registration is often criticized as being a step closer to government confiscation of guns. The idea is if the government decides to take away guns for anyone that was deemed unfit to have them, it would already have a list of owners so it would know whose door to knock on.
“It’s none of your fucking business what I own,” Cox said. “I haven’t broken any laws. Why do I have to register my shit? Leave me alone.”
Cox argued that the largest battle over guns in New Hampshire is actually happening at the state level.
“Locally is where they get you,” he said. “We’re under major attack right now.”
Democrats took over both houses of the state legislature in 2018. In their first year in power, the blue team passed bills that would have required background checks for commercial firearm sales, created a waiting period for gun sale, and banned firearms from school property. All three were blocked by the Granite State’s Republican governor.
“Last year, the New Hampshire legislature passed every law that would make us look like California,” Cox said. “Thank God we have Governor [Chris] Sununu and the Democrats don’t have a veto-proof majority.”
Cox was not optimistic about any of the Democratic candidates, but he did say Gabbard has “potential.”
The congresswoman from Hawaii has supported gun control legislation such as a ban on military-style assault weapons and comprehensive background checks. Those moves earned her a 50% rating from the Gun Owners of America, and led to the likes of Cox wondering how much of Gabbard’s gun control policy is more than lip service.
“Does she really believe it?” he asked.
“I like Buttigieg. He has a Kennedy vibe,” said another employee named Dennis, before clarifying that he means John F. Kennedy and not any of the younger members of the Kennedy family. (A faded bumper sticker on the outside of the store reads, “Ted Kennedy’s car killed more people than my gun.”)
JR Hoell, corporate secretary for the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, was equally pessimistic.
“All of the Democratic candidates want to ban firearms,” he said. “The Republicans are only slightly better. When it comes to policy, there’s a lot they can do to restore that have already been taken and they have not done so.”
One example Hoell gave about laws that could be corrected was the National Firearm Act of 1934, which, among other things, banned suppressors. Suppressors are also known as silencers, although they do not actually silence guns as much as they muffle the sound.
“All they do is protect hearing,” said Hoell. “Why can’t people have what are essentially fire accessories available to the public?”
Hoell said that he plans to vote for Donald Trump in Tuesday’s primary.
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.