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Governor Baker touts Mass. gun laws to other governors in D.C.

Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Governor Charlie Baker speaks at a meeting of the National Governors Association.

By Globe Staff 

WASHINGTON — Federal elected officials have long been at odds over how to reduce the risk of mass shootings.

The nation’s governors are, too.

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In conversations with 20 of them at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting this weekend, there was nothing approaching consensus on the most effective measures they could take going forward to reduce the risk of mass shootings, such as the one that killed 17 people at a Florida high school this month.

Instead Republicans and Democrats leading states large and small, rural and urban, conservative and liberal offered a vast range of potential solutions: expanding background checks, putting a police officer in every school and restricting access, reinstituting a federal assault-weapons ban, examining the violence glorified on television and video games.

Poised to discuss the issue with President Trump on Monday, they will bring to the White House the dissonance of a nation divided on how to respond to mass shootings.

“We need to do something to stop this violence and prevent it,” said Governor Dennis Daugaard, Republican of South Dakota, expressing one of the only universal sentiments on the charged issue.

Governors of states with strong gun cultures and more lax firearm restrictions focused on defensive measures, such as limiting access to schools.

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Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Baker and other leaders of states with strict gun laws conveyed confidence in their own statutes and expressed hope that other states, and perhaps even the federal government, might mirror them.

“I want to see other people adopt the stuff we’ve already done, which has been proven to be successful,” said Baker, who leads a state that has already banned assault weapons and bump stocks and that mandates a lengthy licensing process to buy a gun.

Baker — a Republican who, in an interview, backed a federal assault-weapons ban — announced Saturday he had signed on to a coalition of four other Northeast states that will share data about people who are forbidden from purchasing or possessing a firearm within each state.

It’s a move meant to supplement the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, but governors involved said it falls far short of the federal actions they desire.

“The No. 1 thing we could do is have universal background checks,” said Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat. “I gave up baying at the moon except on this issue.”

In response to a question about what more he can do to reduce the risk of a mass shooting, Hawaii Governor David Ige, a Democrat, replied succinctly: “Hawaii has the strictest gun control laws in the country.” (He also said his state was working to figure out how to make schools safer.)

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Several governors in more gun-friendly states with looser restrictions on firearm purchases and possession focused on defensive measures, particularly at schools, as ideas for reducing the risk of a mass shooting.

“Protect our kids. Make sure our schools are not as accessible as just walking in the middle of the school day and walking in the door,” said Alaska Governor Bill Walker, an independent.

“What I’ve proposed is to have a certified police officer in every school any time there is a student there,” said South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican. He also called for more mental-health training for educators.

Eric Holcomb, Indiana’s governor, said “school safety and security and our Second Amendment rights are not mutually exclusive. I would say that they are dependent on one another. I mean freedom flows from being secure.”

He, like several other Republicans, was noncommittal on raising the minimum age for the purchase of all guns to 21, a measure Florida Governor Rick Scott proposed for his state on Friday.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval called raising the age “a topic of discussion” and, like several of his Republican colleagues, expressed discomfort with Trump’s idea of arming some teachers.

“At first blush, I don’t know if that’s a very good idea,” Sandoval said.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, said there is no one action to reduce the risk of mass shootings.

He said schools must be prepared, controlling access and having people inside who have the ability to be police offices and take action “against the bad people.” He said good counseling and psychological evaluation are essential to preempt any potential violence from people with mental health issues.

“It’s also about making sure that we end up having our young people have a good environment to grow up healthy,” he said. “I’m concerned about the violence that is glorified not only on television, but in the movies, our gaming. We desensitize our children.”

Asked the most effective action he could take to reduce the risk of a mass shooting, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat who leads a state that is split along partisan lines on gun control, said “bring people to the table from both sides of the aisle that will agree that we need to promote responsible gun ownership.”

Daugaard, the South Dakota governor, listed some ideas: “Harden the schools where we can, 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,” he told reporters gathered a downtown Washington hotel. “Those are all possible, but I don’t pretend to have all the answers.”

The president, for his part, told governors at a black-tie White House dinner Sunday evening that talking about the Florida shooting and how to prevent similar tragedies would be a high priority in their policy discussions on Monday.

“We’ll be talking about Parkland and the horrible event that took place last week,” he said. “I think we’ll make that first on our list.”


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.