Robert Burns

Robert Burns, one of seven Republicans vying for U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster’s seat, makes a point Wednesday.

Robert Burns, one of seven Republicans vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster, D-N.H., in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, contends that he is the clear conservative choice for voters in the upcoming primary.

In an interview at The Sentinel Tuesday, the former Hillsborough County treasurer said his early and avid support for President Donald Trump sets him apart in a crowded field.

Burns served as Trump’s National Youth Coalition chairman leading up to the 2016 election. He described that time as a heady and indelible experience that helped inform his own decision to run for office. In his telling, Trump was the only presidential candidate talking about creating a level playing field for international trade.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Burns said of the president. “He’s negotiating a better deal for the United States.”

In an hour-long discussion, the candidate touted his conservative bona fides, including unqualified support for gun rights.

“The Second Amendment has always been a cornerstone of my campaign,” he said.

In Burns’ view, the right to own a firearm is absolute. He said he would work to repeal existing gun laws, including the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, which bans civilians from owning new fully automatic weapons.

Burns said he would also push for national reciprocity legislation that would require law enforcement officials to recognize the validity of out-of-state firearms permits.

“I think that needs to be addressed,” he said. “It’s very clear in the Constitution that you have the right to defend yourself.”

Burns, 40, divides his time between Manchester and Bedford, where he operates a pharmaceutical technologies business that was started by his father.

Both municipalities are in the state’s 1st Congressional District. However, it’s legal for candidates to run in a district where they don’t live, as the U.S. Constitution requires only that the candidate be a resident of the state in which they’re running.

A Nashua native and Keene State College graduate, Burns said he has always considered the 2nd District his true home.

“Virtually all of my family has always lived in the 2nd District,” he said, citing roots in Amherst and Milford.

Describing himself as a zealous outdoorsman, Burns said he’s long considered buying property in the Upper Valley to be closer to nature.

“The first part of conservatism is ‘conserve,’ ” he said.

At the same time, the candidate said he strongly opposes what he characterized as federal land grabs, asserting that the Bureau of Land Management wields too much power in western states such as Nevada and Utah.

Citing a question asked at a recent debate at Keene State College, Burns said he is the only Republican candidate for the 2nd District who unequivocally opposes the expansion of the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which covers large swaths of land along the Connecticut River.

Candidate Jay Mercer of Nashua, who did not attend the debate, could not be reached for comment Wednesday about his position on the wildlife refuge.

“I see that as the federal government starting to regulate some people’s legitimate backyards,” Burns said. “It also affects the dairy farming and logging we have in the area, which is very important to the North Country.”

The Conte refuge was established in 1997 to protect the Connecticut River watershed and stretches from Vermont and New Hampshire down through Massachusetts and Connecticut.

On the topic of the opioid crisis, Burns expressed skepticism about the use of narcotics such as Suboxone and methadone to combat addiction. He said people addicted to opioids need “tough love,” contending that treatment centers should bear a closer resemblance to boot camps, with an emphasis on physical exercise.

Burns also said he is a strong supporter of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, supplemented by advanced surveillance technology.

Asked about the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, under which nearly 3,000 children were separated from their families, the candidate said separating children from adults at the border is necessary to determine whether the youths have been kidnapped.

Burns also said that parents who brought their children into the country illegally knew what they were getting into.

“If it was a concern of the parents, they shouldn’t have come here illegally,” he said.

While describing himself as an avowed conservative, Burns said he breaks with Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues. For example, he said he supports the federal decriminalization of marijuana and opposes the death penalty.

“I’m 100 percent against state-sanctioned murder,” he said.

The candidate said his bid for the 2nd District holds some crossover appeal to progressive voters who may have felt alienated by Kuster’s support for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 Democratic primary. He said those voters are looking for non-establishment candidates and share his desire for limited government.

“Within my party, I’ve always been seen as more of an outsider,” he said.

In addition to Burns and Mercer, the crowded Republican field is made up of Brian Belanger of New Boston; Gerard Beloin of Colebrook; former state Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord; former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regional director Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton; and N.H. Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua.

Kuster, of Hopkinton, is running for re-election to a fourth term.

Libertarians Justin O’Donnell of Nashua and Tom Alciere of Hudson also filed their candidacies for the seat, while Dexter W. Dow of Franklin and Gary S. Moody of Milford are running as independents.

The primary is Sept. 11, ahead of the general election Nov. 6.

William Holt can be reached at 352-1234 extension 1435, or wholt@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at WHoltKS.