As New Hampshire Democrats embrace new gun control laws, including bans on so-called “assault weapons,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) told NHJournal on Wednesday the state should stand by its “Live Free or Die” principles.
After the October 25 mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, that left 18 dead, the two leading Democrats running for New Hampshire governor announced their support for new restrictions on gun ownership.
Both Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington support so-called “red flag” laws, repealing the state’s Constitutional Carry law, extending waiting periods for gun purchases, and, perhaps most significant, a ban on “assault weapons.”
While there is no definition of the phrase, gun-control advocates generally use the term to describe semi-automatic rifles with a military-style appearance. The AR-15, the gun used by the Maine mass shooter and the most popular rifle sold in the U.S., is generally considered an “assault weapon.”
“Our congressional delegation has co-sponsored legislation to ban assault weapons on a national level, but because Republicans in D.C. have blocked this critical legislation, state-level action is necessary,” Warmington said at a press conference last week.
Asked by NHJournal about the push for gun bans by Granite State Democrats, DeSantis said he disagreed.
“I stand with New Hampshire as the “Live Free or Die” state,” DeSantis replied.
“What happened [in Maine] was a terrible thing,” DeSantis said. “Obviously, there should have been an intervention with what happened leading up to [the shooting], we know that. But to turn around and try to ‘cure’ that by going after people’s individual rights? That’s not going to work. New Hampshire has always stood against that.”
DeSantis agrees with Democrats Craig and Warmington that New Hampshire has relatively few restrictions on gun ownership. But unlike the Democrats who decry the state’s current laws — Craig complains they are “some of the weakest gun laws in the entire country” — DeSantis supports the Granite State’s approach.
New Hampshire “has always understood — heck, Vermont and Maine, too — these are states that have always believed in your ability to protect yourself. And they’ve really done well in upholding the Second Amendment.”
DeSantis said the focus should be on mental illness, and he argued that it was public health policy, not gun laws, that failed in Maine.
“If somebody’s involuntarily committed and they’re not capable of conducting themselves in society, I don’t think anyone would disagree [with restricting their access to guns],” DeSantis said. “So you need to do that. And I definitely think in this case it should have been done.”
The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that the shooter “was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in New York this summer after exhibiting erratic behavior during training.”
DeSantis made his remarks after a “Medical Freedom Town Hall” hosted by the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down. DeSantis discussed his rejection of government vaccine mandates, his limited lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his support for citizens to make their own health-related decisions. Also appearing with the Florida governor was the state’s Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who answered questions about pandemic policy in the wake of COVID.
Asked about Democrats arguing that focusing on mental health isn’t enough when it comes to fighting gun violence, and if he believed gun bans or other restrictions were needed, Ladapo said the focus on firearms, rather than overall mental health, is “pure politics.”
“It’s ironic that the same people who worsened everyone’s mental health over the last few years are also the people who want to only focus on firearms,” Dr. Ladapo said. “It’s total nonsense. We have a lot of problems in our society: physical abuse, emotional abuse, and firearm violence. There are a lot of problems that are related to mental health, and it’s a worthwhile problem to really work.”
DeSantis’ views on gun rights and mental health are in line with most of his fellow Republicans. For example, on the NHJournal podcast, GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said his view of the Maine shooting is “we have a mental health epidemic in this country.”
“The rise in violent crime correlates directly with the closure of psychiatric institutions, and we need to have the courage to say, ‘Were there abuses in the past? Sure.’ But we’re going to bring them back,” Ramaswamy said.
“And in the meantime, remember: The Second Amendment exists for a reason. It’s there to protect us from government overreach on our liberty.”