While Students Protest Gun Violence, Sununu Convenes School Safety Task Force

Mar 14, 2018

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, shown here during his State of the State address
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  Governor Chris Sununu said Wednesday he wants his hand-picked school safety task force to research the effectiveness of arming school employees and if stronger background checks could help prevent gun violence.

The first-term Republican's School Safety Preparedness Task Force met for the first time Wednesday, the same day students across the state walked out of the classroom to honor the 17 people killed in the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla.

The task force includes public safety officials like the New Hampshire Director of Homeland Security, parents of local public school kids, educators, mental health advocates and at least two high school students. Sununu has asked the group to meet over the next three months and come up with suggestions for better safety protocols for New Hampshire K-12 schools.

The governor kicked off the public portion of Wednesday’s meeting by sharing a list of his own ideas that he’d like participants to consider. Beyond arming educators and background checks, two ideas that often come up during recent gun violence debates, Sununu also wants members to look into increasing access for youth mental health services, investing in school security and safety infrastructure, early warning systems and potential training opportunities for school faculty and staff. Sununu hardly used the word gun when sharing his list of school safety proposals.

Sununu said he’s been talking with other governors about school safety ideas, and he said schools in Texas and Washington have utilized so-called violent threat restraining orders, something he wants his task force to look into as well.

“We've been very fortunate here in the past few years in that we haven't had a significant incident dealing with a shooting. But we all know that day could come, and the best thing we could do is be prepared as possible,” Sununu said.

The governor did not address the possibility of banning guns from public schools, even though state lawmakers were debating that very topic just before the task force meeting. Democratic Sen. Martha Hennessey of Hanover introduced a proposal that would give school boards the power to ban guns from school buildings and buses.

This isn’t the first time a mass shooting has inspired New Hampshire officials to take a second look at its safety protocols. Perry Plummer, Director of New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said officials also reviewed local school safety after 26 people, including 20 first graders, were killed during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

The task force is expected to take the next three months to come up with its report on safety protocols, though updates on their progress might be hard to come by. Not all of their meetings will be public, and Sununu asked reporters to leave the room after the introductory portion of the first meeting. The governor told task force members closed-door meetings would allow for more honest conversation, and while he said members were allowed to speak with the press, he asked that participants only share with reporters their own comments or perspectives on the meeting, and not share other members ideas.