Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson thinks the attacks spawned by the resurgence of white supremacy groups can be deterred by public officials speaking out, stronger hate crime legislation and better intelligence surveillance, but he’s wary of gun control proposals at the center of the national debate on gun violence.
Hutchinson, who as a U.S. Attorney famously helped negotiate a peaceful standoff and successful prosecution of a white supremacy group in the mid 1980’s, said the resurgence in white nationalism has a lot to do with the ability to congregate virtually.
“What is different today is the mass media, it is the social media, that you can’t control it as much and it’s harder to get the intelligence information on all the threats that are out there,” Hutchinson said. “In the ’80s it was multiple groups in different physical locations. Today, you might have physical locations, but you also have individual actors that are located in the basement of some house, that drives 400 miles to carry out an act of violence. So it’s what we see different today is the social media, the reach that they can have with a much more limited effort.”
Hutchinson’s high-profile comments speaking out against white supremacy groups comes in the wake of a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart that targeted Hispanic shoppers and led to the deaths of 22 and injured two dozen more. Hutchinson said there have been “two different approaches” to that mass shooting and subsequent others.
“Some immediately moved toward well, we’ve got to control guns. That’s not acceptable in Arkansas, and that’s not the right solution,” he said. “The other solution is an enforcement issue, and so that’s one of the reasons, and I’ve advocated for hate crimes legislation. That’s a better enforcement tool to diminish and to make sure that we hold accountable those people that will target individuals because of their race, religion, etc.”
Hutchinson said he would be supportive of a state hate crimes law if the Arkansas Legislature passed a measure. He said it should provide for enhanced penalties on crimes committed because of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The governor also said that he believes there is increased surveillance of domestic terrorist threats, such as white supremacy groups, just like the country ramped up its monitoring of foreign threats in the wake of 9/11.
“Certainly, the FBI still has a responsibility for domestic terrorism that would include some of the radicalized groups. I know that they do have intelligence on those,” said the former deputy director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “It’s a question of balancing of resources… we have to rebalance this and recognize that we have two threats, one the domestic terrorism variety, the extremist groups right here, and then the second one remains, and you can’t diminish that, which is the Islamic radical type of terrorism, so we’ve got to actually look at both.”
GUN ACCESS AND GUN CONTROL
Hutchinson is wary to embark on a litany of gun control legislation. With long-standing ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and support for the Second Amendment, Hutchinson said other objects have been used in mass killings.
“Whenever you look at mass killings, we’ve seen airplanes used for that purpose. You’ve seen machete attacks used for that purpose, and you’ve seen firearms used for that purpose. The United States is a huge population, and so obviously there’s a lot of focus and we do have more than what we would like. But it is something that you see, whether it’s in Sweden, or whether it’s in Australia, you’ve seen these type of attacks as well, some of them for the same type of radicalized purposes,” he said.
“But there’s a national conversation going on, and it’s going to continue to look into all aspects of that, but I know that it first starts with first of all the individual, and their heart, and that somebody is very evil that does this, so we’ve got to address, to the extent that we can, how do you have better hearts in America? And then secondly, it’s about enforcement, and that’s what we go to first. Let’s enforce the law, let’s gather the intelligence on it. I think you’ve got to look at the mental health. I don’t see, while I think it’s a fair discussion on making sure that our laws are effective in keeping felons from having it, or those with adjudicated mental illness from having firearms they shouldn’t have access to, let’s tighten up those legitimate areas of concern. That’s a fair discussion,” he said.
Hutchinson said he has not seen a “red flag” bill that he could support. Some states have adopted legislation that allows for a judicial process to remove guns from someone considered a danger to themselves or others. Hutchinson said he has concerns about due process.
“Well, that it’s a simple probable cause requirement to take someone’s firearms away. That’s a very low standard of proof, and I know that in many circumstances that you’re going to have false reports come in. There’s anger at someone, and so you give the police a report saying he’s got firearms and he’s threatened to kill people. Well, the police are going to respond to that and say we can’t risk it by not taking his firearms away because we’ll be held accountable because we didn’t take action… it’s too low of a threshold that I’ve seen thus far,” he said.
Hutchinson shared his thoughts on other proposals in the gun access and gun control debate:
Open carry – “Individuals have the right to protect themselves, and so that’s an important constitutional right. Does that, in fact deter mass shooters? I think if there is a law enforcement presence, a security presence that’s visible in stores, and you’re going to see more of that. That is a deterrent, absolutely.”
Universal background checks – “I do believe that we need to make sure that we have the right information in the data system, and that when you’re buying it from a commercial dealer that you can have that check, but when the word ‘universal,’ that’s a little bit problematic balancing that with freedoms.”
Reporting gun purchases – “I don’t know that anybody, the government should know where guns are. I don’t think they need to know how many firearms I have in my home or any citizen has.”
You can watch the governor’s entire interview in the video below, including his thoughts on government transformation, a new state ranking for small business, and his potential political future beyond the governor’s office.