Pete Buttigieg speaks to a packed house during a barn party in New Hampton on Saturday afternoon. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. (Karen Bobotas photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

NEW HAMPTON — Pete Buttigieg fielded a tough question Saturday from a 14-year-old girl.

She asked what can be done about gun violence — an issue that makes her “scared to go to school.”

Speaking at a campaign stop in a barn, the Democratic presidential candidate said middle school is challenging enough without having to worry about personal safety.

“On behalf of everybody who is old enough to vote or hold office in this country, we are supposed to figure that out and fix it so you don’t have to worry about it,” he told her.

Buttigieg called for universal background checks for gun purchases.

“Which by the way, most Americans, most Republicans, most gun owners, think is a good idea, but Congress can’t seem to get it done,” said the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

He also favors “red flag laws,” intended to allow courts to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or to themselves.

Such laws could also prevent a lot of suicides, he said.

“And the weapons that are being sold in this country, the kinds of things that I trained on in order to serve in the military, do not belong anywhere near your school and should not be sold for a profit in the United States of America.”

In his speech, he encouraged people to mobilize around the values that historically have defined America.

“As president, I’m determined to ensure that those values lead us in a progressive direction,” he said. “We think about values like love of country, patriotism.

“I’m determined as president to rebuild the kind of patriotism that is inclusive, not a cheap nationalism that is hugging the flag, literally hugging the flag, in order to prove something, or throwing a military parade for the ego of the president. I’m talking about real love of country that is grounded in the awareness that our country is made of people and you cannot love a country if you hate half of the people in it.”

He said faith is too often used to divide instead of uplift people.

“My message to people of faith is that my White House will be one where you don’t have to scratch your head and ask yourself, ‘Whatever happened to, I was hungry and you fed me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.”

He called for respect for people of all religions and for those who have no religion.

“Because we respect religious freedom and honor the separation of church and state in the United States,” he said.

He called for action on climate change, Medicare for all who want it and an end to voter suppression.

Buttigieg said these are particularly troubling times.

“It’s hard to look a 14-year-old in the eye who’s asking you what we’re going to do to keep them safe,” he said. “We’re looking at challenging and bleak times, sometimes, for our country, but that’s what elections are for.

“As challenging as it is right now, as tough as it is right now, I’m convinced that if we take the right steps now, we will look back at 2020 and we will be able to say, ‘Sorry about the way it went in 2019, but look at what we did in 2020 to make life in this country better.’”

The barn was overflowing with people, who frequently broke into applause.

Several of those who attended expressed enthusiasm for Buttigieg after the event.

I’ve heard him before and I think he’s spot on with his message that we ought to create a community and keep it together. I’m one of the people who think that actually a city the size of South Bend is perfect experience,” said Daniel Moore, 69, of New Hampton, who brought his 10-month-old Labrador puppy to the speech.

“I really like Pete,” said Clare Eckert, 59, of Plymouth. “We went to see Elizabeth Warren a couple weeks ago. I think Elizabeth is great. She has a lot of great plans.

“Buttigieg exudes this humility. “When he talks about community and working with our values, there are a lot of people on the other side of the aisle who share the same values, and somehow that’s just been lost. So I like the idea that we’ve got to pull together. We’ve got to start with what we have in common and we can fix this.”

She said she also supports what she considers as Buttigieg’s “more staged approach” to change in the health care system.

Marj Wilkinson, of Laconia, said she enjoyed listening to him.

“It’s wonderful. I love the way he speaks,” she said. “It makes sense, full sentences.

“I like his compassion, his honesty, his values. He addresses the issues and I think he’s realistic. What he’s promising, he wants to be able to do.”

She attended the speech with Judy Perrier, also of Laconia. Both said they would vote for him.

“It doesn’t feel like pie-in-the-sky promises,” Perrier said. “I feel he is genuinely saying it from the heart. Of course, we know what happens when you get to Washington. You’re not alone, but I think he can convince a lot of folks there to come along.”

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted Nov. 6-10, showed Joe Biden with 20 percent support in the New Hampshire primary, Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent, Buttigier at 15 percent and Bernie Sanders at 14 percent.

From Friday through Monday, Buttigieg drove through the state on a campaign bus, with stops at Manchester, Stratham, Salem, Lebanon, Franklin, New Hampton, Berlin, Littleton, Claremont, Walpole, Portsmouth and Rochester.

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