Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley made her position on guns clear at Sunday’s CNN town hall.
The former South Carolina governor was prompted with a question on how she would prevent mass shootings in targetable areas such as “schools, shopping malls, and other areas where responsible citizens can’t really carry their firearm.” Her most distinctive proposal came in response to a question about stopping school shootings. Haley said that mental health treatment is a key component to preventing attacks before they happen, in addition to posting police at every school and hardening their physical design to protect students during an attack.
“We should have a mental health counselor at every single school. Not a guidance counselor, but a mental health counselor,” she told the audience.
Haley’s comments on firearms at the town hall broadly fall in line with what most of her competitors for the Republican primary have said on the topic. They focused on controlling crime, arming school officers, and improving mental health support to increase safety. However, she is the first to suggest putting a mental health counselor in every school.
“Let’s deal with the cancer in America that no one has dealt with and we have to deal with, and that’s mental health,” she said. “We have to treat this like the crisis it is. We have to make mental health a number one priority.”
When asked about “red flag” laws by host Jake Tapper, like most of her competitors, Haley rejected the concept.
“I don’t trust government to deal with red flag laws. I don’t trust that they won’t take them away from people who rightfully deserve to have them,” she responded. “It is a constitutional right for people to protect and defend themselves.”
Haley’s comments come as fellow Republican candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has attacked front-runner and former president Donald Trump over his praise for the concept. Back in 2018, Trump praised the idea of implementing such laws, but his support for them disintegrated after Democrats began impeachment proceedings against him. DeSantis has used Trump’s previous stance to denounce his competition.
Haley’s performance at the CNN town hall comes a few weeks after Trump did a similar event with the cable channel. During that town hall, Trump advocated arming teachers to defend against school shootings. He also doubled down on his support of the bump stock ban, which has since been found unconstitutional.
“As you know, the bump stocks are actually a very unimportant thing,” Trump said. “NRA I went with them, and they said, ‘it doesn’t mean anything, or actually all they do is teach you how to shoot very inaccurately.’ So, we did that.”
The former South Carolina governor focused on stricter enforcement of current laws and avoiding new restrictions.
“More murders are caused by street crime than anything else, so let’s start focusing on what we can deal with,” Haley said. “Let’s get illegal guns off the street; let’s have the backs of law enforcement.”
Haley also condemned gun-free zones, which drew large applause from the crowd in attendance.
“Killers always look for a place that’s a gun-free zone because guess what, no ones gonna be able to protect themselves,” she said. “The last thing I’m gonna do is take away the ability for someone to protect themselves and their family.”
While serving as South Carolina Governor from 2011-2017, Haley loosened gun restrictions in the state. In 2014, she signed a law allowing concealed carry in bars and restaurants. But some of her competitors, such as Ron DeSantis, have removed permitting requirements altogether.