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STRATHAM, N.H. – Governor John Kasich of Ohio said Friday that in order to eliminate shootings at colleges and other schools, America must “prepare” these institutions and “harden” them.

“You have to prepare. You have to harden. The guns are not the problem,” the GOP presidential hopeful said at the Stratham Municipal Center to a crowd of nearly 200 people. He singled out poor background screening of gun purchasers with a history of mental illness.

Kasich made his comment in response to a high school senior, Seamus McDonough, 18, who had traveled to New Hampshire from his hometown in Wells, Maine, to ask about gun violence on campuses. The governor, who is running in crowded GOP field of 15 candidates, spent the day campaigning in New Hampshire and Vermont.

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“I’m going to college and I want to be as safe as possible,” McDonough said. “I don’t want to have to worry about somebody coming into my classroom with a gun and a message just to prove a point.”

The exchange between student and candidate came on the same day as two more fatal shootings on college campuses — one at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and the other at Texas Southern University in Houston. Last week, nine people were killed by a lone gunman on the Umpqua Community College campus in Oregon.

Three Democratic presidential candidates – former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley – have called for changes in U.S. gun laws to close what they consider loopholes. These include working with Congress to tighten background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and on the Internet. O’Malley and Clinton released detailed plans in the last week.

Kasich and several other Republican candidates have largely focused on treating mental illness and controlling gun access to those suffering from it. Kasich attributed the most recent shootings to a lack of pre-purchase background screening for mental illness.

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“States are supposed to have databases on who suffers from mental illness,” he said. “I’m told that there is one state in this country where they have listed only two people. They need to do their job.”

The governor also stressed the need for strong community and family values to decrease mental illness in future generations.

“We have allowed our families to deteriorate because we want to do everything [our] way,” Kasich said. “I believe we have to rebuild our communities and our families.”

McDonough, the visiting student, said he was satisfied with Kasich response.

“I think the answer he gave me was the right idea,” he said. “I do believe that it all starts with the communities because we can’t take away the rights of the Americans. The rights that are given to them by the Constitution.”


Drenusha Jusufi can be reached at drenusha_jusufi@emerson.edu. Anthony Mastracci can be reached at anthony_mastracchi@emerson.edu