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Shaheen Calls Sununu ‘Cowardly’ On Guns. But Remember Carl Drega?

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen took to Twitter to accurse Gov. Chris Sununu of cowardice. But her own record as governor is problematic.

In response to a tweet from Sununu regarding the Robb Elementary School shooting, Shaheen wrote, “How can anyone be complacent with this status quo? Refusing to enact common-sense gun reforms is cowardly, irresponsible, and deadly.

“Buffalo. Uvalde. Tulsa. Las Vegas. Orlando. Newtown. Parkland. Aurora. Columbine,” Shaheen added. “The list goes on.”

But there is another town she could have added to the list: Colebrook, N.H.

In August 1997, Carl Drega shot and killed four people in Colebrook, including two New Hampshire State troopers in the state’s only mass shooting. 

Carl Drega

Described as a disgruntled loner who blamed local officials for his wife’s death from cancer, the 62-year-old Drega had repeatedly been involved in disputes over zoning regulations and property taxes with the town of Columbia, N.H. Years of frustration boiled over into deadly rage on August 19 when state troopers Les Lord and Scott Phillips pulled him over for excessive rust on his truck.

Drega stole the dead officers’ police car and drove to Colebrook District Court to hunt down Judge Vicki Bunnell, who was also a Columbia selectwoman and had a restraining order against him. Drega shot her eight times in the back. When Dennis Joos, editor of the Colebrook News and Sentinel, tried to wrestle the AR-15 away from him, Drega killed him, too.

Drega went to his house in Columbia and set it on fire. He was confronted by N.H. Fish and Game warden Wayne Saunders, who Drega shot and wounded. He then fled across the river to Vermont for a last stand, during which three more law enforcement officers were wounded before Drega was finally shot to death.

It was a shocking crime in a small community. A library in Stewartstown was later named for Joos in honor of his courage. Books have been written about the horrific events of that August day.

And who was governor in 1997? Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

In the aftermath of New Hampshire’s only mass shooting, then-Gov. Shaheen didn’t sign any laws restricting gun ownership or making it more difficult to buy AR-15s. Indeed, Democrats have held the corner office for 19 of the 25 years since Drega’s rampage and New Hampshire still has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation. 

NHJournal repeatedly contacted Shaheen’s office for a comment about her gun control record, her accusation of cowardice against Gov. Sununu, and what she would do in response to the mass shooting in Texas. She declined to respond.

Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, Director of the Public Protection Division, said the FBI defines mass shooting incidents as those with four victims, not including the shooter or shooters.

“The Congressional Research Service defines mass shootings as multiple, firearm, homicide incidents, involving four or more victims at one or more locations close to one another,” Strelzin said.

While Drega’s shooting is the only one to meet the FBI’s definition of a mass shooting, Strelzin said there are two other incidents in which three people were shot.

In July 2007, Michael Woodbury shot and killed three men in a store in Conway. In 2010, Ken Arsenault shot three people in Pittsburg. One victim later died.

Both of those shootings also occurred on the watch of Democratic Gov. John Lynch. During his record four terms, no significant gun restrictions were put into place.

Hassan’s contribution to gun control as governor was vetoing the constitutional carry bill that Sununu would go on to sign into law.

The Gifford Law Center, a non-profit dedicated to preventing gun violence, gives New Hampshire an F in gun control laws.

“New Hampshire lacks many basic gun safety protections and, in fact, has weakened its gun laws in recent years—state lawmakers must reverse this deadly trend,” the Giffords ranking states. “New Hampshire has not passed any meaningful gun safety laws in years, and recently enacted a law that allows people to carry loaded, hidden handguns in public without a background check or permit.”

But according to Jim Goulden, a Nashua defense attorney who specializes in gun crime cases, New Hampshire politicians who support gun control usually end up out of office.

“I don’t know of any New Hampshire politician who has pushed for greater gun control,” he said.

New Hampshire’s gun laws tend to focus on punishing people who use firearms in the commission of a crime, or who possess firearms while being legally prohibited from doing so, he said. Goulden said the results of New Hampshire’s laws are evident.

“If we’re going by crimes involving firearms, New Hampshire has very good gun control, we have very few gun crimes,” he said.

Last year, the FBI released crime statistics for 2020, finding a 30 percent surge in murders nationwide, but not in New Hampshire. According to the FBI’s data, there were 6.5 murders per 100,000 people nationally. In New Hampshire, it was 0.9 per 100,000 or 12 murders for all of 2020.

The 2020 statistic may be an anomaly. Michael Garrity, director of communication for the New Hampshire Department of Justice, said the state typically averages about 19 murders per year, and 2022 is following the trend.

“There have been 11 so far this year, so there has been no spike in homicides,” he said.

Goulden said no matter the gun laws anyone wants to propose, the only real change will happen when people start getting serious about addressing mental illness.

“Until people start taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own families, mental illness, always going to be an outlier,” he said.

Pro-Life Republican Lovett Running as Democrat in District 8 Senate Race

What do you call a Democrat who’s voted in favor of a 20-week abortion ban, supported allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit, and tried to pass restrictions to stop college students from voting?

Claremont’s Charlene Lovett.

A former Republican state representative who also once served as mayor of Claremont, Lovett has launched a bid for the District 8 Senate seat as a Democrat. Lovett said she changed her party registration this year because she’s become disenchanted with the GOP over the years.

“The party that I grew up in and have been part of for many decades isn’t the party of today. I feel like the party left me behind,” Lovett said.

Lovett now describes herself as a moderate Democrat as she seeks to unseat Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard.

While in the House in 2012, Lovett had a solidly pro-life voting record: she voted for bans on partial-birth and late-term abortion, as well as a 20-week abortion ban, and a 24-hour waiting period for abortion. She also supported giving legal protection to the unborn who were injured or killed when their mother was assaulted.

Lovett also opposed requiring health insurance to cover contraception.

On ballot access issues, Lovett supported a photo ID mandate. She also supported tightening the rules on residency for voting in a way that would block out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire. Most of her (now) fellow Democrats opposed these measures.

Lovett cast conservative votes on a range of issues. She supported tax credits for businesses that donate to private school scholarships and opposed legalizing medical marijuana. She was against refugee resettlements in New Hampshire, and she supported a state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

Ward said she has run into Lovett a few times over the years but does not know her well.

“I have not checked her voting records. It will be very interesting to do some research,” Ward said. “Anyone can run, and I will do my best against whoever is my opponent.”

Asked about her decidedly un-moderate voting record, Lovett said she’s changed her mind on many of her former positions.

“Over time, I’ve changed my positions, and that’s been caused by working with people from all walks of life and learning more about the challenges people face in their lives,” she said.

NHJournal reached out to state Democratic leaders to ask about having a candidate with such a pro-Republican record running to represent their party, particularly in a community like Claremont that backed progressive Bernie Sanders in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential primaries.

District 8 also includes Acworth, Antrim, Bennington, Charlestown, Croydon, Deering, Dunbarton, Francestown, Gilsum, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, Newport, Stoddard, Sunapee, Unity, Washington, Weare and Windsor.

Progressives have been upset with the party establishment for years, as the younger left wing of the party continues to get ignored by the old guard. Two progressives Democrats abandoned the House caucus to become independents during the current session, and a third quit the House entirely.

And leaders of the New Hampshire Democratic Latino Caucus resigned in opposition to the embrace of what they call “racist” immigration policies by Hassan and fellow Democrat incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas. They’ve held public protests as well.

While Lovett may have become a Democrat, she’s no progressive. If she’s able to win her new party’s nomination without a fight, it could be yet another indicator that state party chairman Ray Buckley’s strategy is for New Hampshire Democrats to tack hard to the right as the midterms approach.

It’s not working, according to RNC Spokesman Andrew Mahaleris.

“Whether it’s Maggie Hassan endorsing a border wall, Chris Pappas supporting Title 42, or Charlene Lovett finally revealing her true colors as a Democrat, it’s clear that Ray Buckley and the rest of his party know they are in trouble. While these pandering politicians are claiming to support commonsense policies to get elected, Granite State voters know where their true priorities lie and will defeat them in November,” Mahaleris said.

In addition to her time as a state rep, Lovett has served on the Claremont School Board, City Council, and as the mayor. Her service has not been without controversy.

In 2019, Claremont City Manager Ryan McNutt blamed Lovett for his firing, and for creating a difficult environment in city hall.

“She is one of the most difficult people I’ve worked with,” McNutt said at the time. “She is not someone who understood her role.”

McNutt said Lovett was constantly trying to attain more power as mayor. Claremont is chartered with a weak mayor’s position, giving day-to-day responsibility to the city manager.

“There was a desire for more control,” McNutt said.

That same year, City Councilor Jon Stone accused Lovett of interfering with a police investigation during the 2016 shooting of Claremont man Cody LaFont by city police. Lovett said at the time that she would welcome an investigation into this accusation, though none was pursued.

NH Democrats Unified in Vote to Ban Guns from House Chamber

On their first day in session, New Hampshire House Democrats voted in lockstep to ban members from bringing “deadly weapons”–aka “firearms”– into the House chamber, overturning a pro-gun policy passed by a GOP majority four years ago. While pro-2A protesters filled the gallery and Republicans like Rep. Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry) gave fiery speeches from the floor, Democrats said little, often declining to even answer questions.  Instead, they let their votes do the talking.

Democrats voted 220 to 163 for the gun ban, with the support of virtually every Democrat in attendance. (The House has a 233/167 split.)   An earlier motion to table the rule change failed by a nearly-identical margin, 221-164, with just three Democrats (Jeff Goley, Mark King and Peter Leishman) voting with the GOP to set the measure aside.

“This body has committed a grievous error that violates the constitutional rights of members of this historic body,” House Minority Leader Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack) said from the floor.

“This is simply a matter of public safety,” House Majority Leader Doug Ley (D-Jaffrey) said in a statement after the vote. “Allowing lawmakers and members of the public to bring their guns to the State House clearing increases the potential for an avertable tragic event. The amendment passed today restores common sense to our practices in the legislature.”

Perhaps more telling was this tweet from NH Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley several hours before the vote was even taken:

The outcome of the vote was hardly a surprise, but Buckley’s confidence is worth noting.  Holding virtually the entire caucus on an issue like gun rights–which are relatively popular in some of the traditionally-GOP seats Democrats picked up in November’s blue wave–is a sign of party unity that should concern the NHGOP.   Particularly given their own failure to unify behind several of Gov. Chris Sununu’s key issues when they had the majority last year, like fighting internet sales taxes and vetoing subsidies to biomass.

“But remember, Republicans were united today, too,” Stephen Stepanek told NHJournal after the vote. “We stuck together as a block, something we’ve got to continue to do in 2019.”  Stepanek, who is the front-runner to become the next chairman of the NHGOP, acknowledges that Republicans didn’t come through for Gov. Sununu and their own party last year.

“But I believe Republican legislators will stick together this session,” Stepanek said. “They have to. We need to stay together so voters can see the differences between Republicans and Democrats, so they can see that Democrats are chipping away at our basic rights, like the right to keep and bear arms.” Stepanek, a former House member himselfe, said that if elected chairman, he would use his position to promote party unity among the notoriously unruly members of the House GOP.

“If Republicans stick together, the Democrats will give us issues to run on –and win back the legislature with–in 2020,” Stepanek said. “Democrats are going to do stupid things.  They can’t help themselves.”

But is keeping legislators from carrying guns on the House floor really one of those “stupid things?” Do New Hampshire voters, who tell pollsters they support gun control measures like banning so-called “assault weapons” and limiting the size of gun magazines, really care about the right to legislate while armed?

“Anyone who says ‘I’m pro-Second-Amendment, but…’ isn’t really pro-2A,” a protester named Scott told NHJournal outside the House chamber. He declined to give his last name, was wearing a handgun on his belt a waved a sign reading “Ban Idiots, Not Guns.”

According to Joe Sweeney, spokesperson for the NHGOP, the party highlighted Wednesday’s vote to alert gun-rights advocates about the Democrats’ larger anti-gun agenda for the coming session.

“It’s a slippery slope,” he told NHJournal. “If you have members who will vote to take away rights from their fellow members of the House, who else will they vote to take away rights from? Today is mobilizing our people to be ready to fight in a month or so when more anti-gun bills come out.”

“This is the first day of a long two years,” Sweeney said.

NH Dems Say Lack of Gun Ban at State House Is Scaring Away School Children

As promised, newly-elected Speaker of the House Steve Shurtleff began the process of banning guns from the House chamber Wednesday morning with a 6-4 vote by the Rules Committee to amend house rules to prohibit the carrying of firearms in Representatives’ Hall.  And, as is often the case, Democrats say they’re doing it “for the children.”

While he acknowledged the existing policy of allowing armed citizens and legislators into the House chamber has never created a problem, Shurtleff says he’s concerned about school kids.   “In addition to being the place we make laws, it’s also a classroom. We have fourth graders coming in to view us in session and I think like any classroom we don’t want firearms present,” Shurtleff said.

Democratic State Rep. Lucy Weber took the argument a step farther during the Rules Committee debate. “There has been a chilling effect on willingness of schools to send their kids here,” Rep. Weber claimed.

Rep. Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack), leader of the GOP House minority, pushed back against that claim, saying it is “unfair and inaccurate to say that fourth graders have been in any way impacted by this. I have not seen any school grade that has felt inhibited about coming for a school tour,” the Union-Leader reports.

Hinch also objected to the ban in general, saying in a statement that “by removing this basic right, we are effectively making the chamber a gun-free zone and less safe environment for our colleagues.”

Since a GOP-controlled House first revoked the ban in 2011, House rules on the matter have changed along with changes in party control of the legislature.   In addition to turning the House chamber into a gun-free zone, Shurtleff told NHPR that, if the gun ban went into effect, he would ask the Department of Safety to increase the State Police presence at House Chamber.

The response to the committee vote from Republicans and Second Amendment supporters was immediate.  “The ink is barely dry on their oaths of office and they’re already trampling the constitution,” former state representative JR Hoell of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition told NHJournal.

“This is the Democrats’ first shot fired in their battle against the Second Amendment. The most important aspect of this vote is that they are telling us they don’t trust their fellow legislators to have firearms. If that’s how they feel about their fellow politicians, how do you think they feel about the rest of us,” Hoell asked. “Their next step is to ban [the rights of] citizens.”

And a tweet from the NHGOP noted the irony of Speaker Shurteff taking away guns from law-abiding citizens then asking for more police protection: “Think about this logically. The @NHDems want extra protection when they ban guns around them, conceding they keep people safe. Is Speaker Shurtleff going to ask for extra protection when he walks around town, too?”

Former Speaker Bill O’Brien, who led the GOP’s first successful effort to repeal the ban, told NHJournal that suggestions about children being too scared to come to the state house were laughable.  “The number of children visiting the State House hasn’t changed at all over the years, with or without the ban.  What we have here is an exercise in virtue signaling,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien agrees with his fellow Republicans who are concerned about anti-Second Amendment activism from the new Democratic majority in Concord. “Democratic legislators will be playing to their base, not serving the people of New Hampshire,” he told NHJournal.  “They’ve got to show [anti-gun billionaires] Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer that all the money they sent up here wasn’t wasted.”

“My friends in the pro-2A [Second Amendment] community are telling me that, from their perspective, nothing the Democrats might try next would surprise them.”