At Governors Meeting, Guns Absent From Agenda

The National Governors Association largely avoided the topic of guns at its meeting this weekend, suggesting that -- despite some Republicans' recent embrace of gun control -- there is still a lack of bipartisan agreement about how to make schools safer.
by | February 25, 2018
National Governors Association Chair Gov. Brian Sandoval delivers opening comments at the NGA winter meeting in Washington. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

The mass shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine's Day has put gun laws and school safety in the national spotlight. On Monday, governors from around the country are scheduled to meet with President Trump to discuss school safety.

But this weekend, at their winter meeting in Washington, D.C., both gun laws and school safety were noticeably absent from the National Governors Association’s agenda and when its leaders addressed their peers, suggesting that -- despite some Republicans' recent embrace of gun control -- there is still a lack of bipartisan agreement about how to address these issues.

Outside of the meeting and in interviews, however, governors on both sides of the aisle have either backed some of Trump’s proposals or offered their own.

The president has voiced support for banning rapid-firing bump stocks (which were used in last year's mass shooting in Las Vegas), improving background checks, raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons, and most controversially, arming teachers.

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, chair of the NGA, met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, where the two discussed school shootings. Sandoval supports the president’s proposal to ban bump stocks but expressed trepidation about arming teachers.

“At first blush [that proposal] concerns me,” he told reporters at the Canadian Embassy on Friday.

Other Republican governors are skeptical about the practicality of arming teachers.

“I’m not certain I see arming teachers as being the answer because I think there’s a very small percentage of teachers who say ‘yes, I want to do that,’” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told Politico on Saturday.

Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey similarly told Politico he would prefer the people with guns in schools to be resource officers.

“I want teachers teaching," he said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, announced some key gun control proposals on Friday, including raising the minimum age to purchase any gun to 21, banning bump stocks and taking guns away from mentally ill people deemed a threat. Florida House and Senate leaders back the plan and have also suggested a three-day waiting period on all firearms. Currently the waiting period only applies to handguns.

Tennessee GOP Gov. Bill Haslam said last week that he would support a bill to ban bump stocks and raise the age people can buy assault weapons to 21.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican in a relatively liberal state, pled with his legislature last week to fast-track a bill that would remove guns from people deemed a threat. He said he’s “changed completely” on gun issues since the Parkland shooting.

But some Republicans avoided discussing the issue this weekend.

When asked by reporters about gun laws, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said, "I'm not talking about that right now, no. I'm not here as a national figure, I'm here as a governor."

Similarly, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ignored a reporter's questions about what, specifically, should be done to make schools safer.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are in virtually unanimous agreement that gun laws need to change and more Republicans need to take action.

Members of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) held a press conference at the NGA meeting on Saturday morning, sharply criticizing Republicans for their inaction on gun control.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the DGA, said that he suspects gun safety will be used as a “bargaining chip” during the White House meeting on Monday, according to Route Fifty.

“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 … And now they’re trying to throw the Dreamers out every chance they get, refusing to do anything but using them as a bargaining chip. And I sadly kind of suspect that might be the case here or will be very soon,” he said.

Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who also led the DGA press conference, said that one of his goals for the NGA’s winter meeting was to build on his new coalition around gun control. On Thursday, Murphy announced the creation of a group called States for Gun Safety. The other members so far are Andrew Cuomo of New York, Dannel Malloy of Connecticut and Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island -- all Democrats. Those states will share intelligence on protective orders that prohibit people from purchasing firearms and will create a cross-state task force to confiscate illegal guns.

During the bipartisan group’s sessions, however, the governors avoided the controversial subject. The sessions focused on cooperation between states and international governments, the future of agriculture and food, the opioid epidemic, higher education, veterans' treatment and economic development.