Republican governors are expressing new openness to restrictions on gun rights – but the party hasn’t coalesced around specific solutions in the days after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
In Washington for an annual National Governors Association gathering this weekend, several GOP governors said it’s time to consider gun control laws, despite the power of the National Rifle Association with their base.
“There’s always political risk, but at the same time, we’re talking about the lives of kids and innocent men and women and people,” said Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. “We need to have this difficult conversation and get it out in the light of day.”
“There are many, many factors that enter into these tragedies, and I think any governor or federal official that has an idea, those ideas should be explored, because we need to do something to stop this violence,” said South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
Their comments came the day after Florida Gov. Rick Scott broke with the National Rifle Association and moved to bar those under 21 and the mentally ill from buying assault rifles.
Governors are scheduled to meet President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, where gun laws will be a dominant topic.
Trump is pushing for teachers to be trained and armed as a way of deterring school shooters – though he said Saturday on Twitter that whether to implement such a program could be left to individual states, a signal that the federal government will not take action.
“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States,” Trump tweeted.
Sandoval, whose daughter is studying to become a teacher, said the idea of arming educators concerns him.
“It wouldn’t be something that I would want for my daughter, but that’s the beginning of a discussion,” he said.
Other GOP governors expressed openness to that idea and others.
“Arm those willing to be armed if they can be trained and safely be armed, raise the age at which one can obtain weaponry – I don’t know, those are all possible, but I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” Daugaard said.
The politics of gun control are complex for Republicans, whose base – particularly in rural states – resists any curtailing of Second Amendment rights.
“I’m not talking about that right now, no. I’m not here as a national figure, I’m here as a governor,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told reporters who tried to ask Saturday about gun laws.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said “school safety’s a very important issue, and I think everything needs to be looked at to try to address it.”
But when a reporter asked several times what such an examination should include, Burgum walked into an elevator, turned and stared, ignoring the question.
“I think there’s a temptation to do just a whole host of things that are not really addressing the fundamental problem but would make people feel better that they’ve done things,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Democratic governors were much more direct in their calls for gun control measures – and took a much less optimistic view of Monday’s White House gathering.
“You have heard a few Republicans scrambling to try to cover up 30 years of inaction, and 30 years of being under the thumb of the NRA, and 30 years of putting children at risk,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said.
He jabbed at “baby steps” from Scott “because they’re now running for other office” – a reference to Scott’s anticipated Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.
Inslee said he sees no way of reaching common ground on guns with Trump.
“This is a president whose homeland security director, at this meeting one year ago, told me to my face that the Dreamers had nothing to worry about,” he said. “I sadly kind of suspect that might be the case here – we’ll hear some language out of the White House that does not actually transmit to action.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said combating gun violence has become “a major calling” for young Americans.
“I think this is going to be the major change in this discussion. I don’t think, after what I’ve seen … that we’re going to see this die down again. This is going to increase in intensity. We’re going to see more people get involved,” he said.
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said Congress should mandate universal background checks for gun purchases and ban bump fire stocks, which allow semiautomatic rifles to fire more rapidly. Sandoval, a Republican, also called for the banning of bump stock sales.
Added Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam: “This is something we’ve never shied away from and we will not shy away from. People from all across the country are standing up and saying, ‘We want you as leaders to address gun violence in this country.’”