Published DateTILTON — Since voting against bipartisan legislation to require universal background checks for purchasers of firearms, New Hampshire's junior United States Senator Republican Kelly Ayotte has lived by the gun and died by the gun, drawing the enthusiastic support from the staunchest champions of the right of gun ownership and losing 15 points on her approval rating amid the withering fire of gun control advocates.
When Ayotte hosted a town hall-style meeting at Winnisquam Regional High School yesterday the two sides lined the driveway, placards in hand, in near equal numbers, but judging by the applause her supporters outnumbered her detractors among the crowd of some 315 gathered inside the auditorium.
Opening an hour-long visit with a PowerPoint presentation, Ayotte framed the major issues facing the Senate, beginning with gun control and the "Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act," introduced by her fellow Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, which she co-sponsored. She said the bill would enhance the current system of background checks, stiffen penalties for straw purchases and illicit trafficking of firearms, increase resources for prosecuting firearm crimes and enhance the safety and security of schools.
Ayotte said she also co-sponsored two bipartisan bills to improve the mental health system by encouraging early intervention and broadening access to treatment while ensuring that mental health records reach the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
A former New Hampshire Attorney General, Ayotte stressed enforcing current law rather than enacting new laws. In particular, she said that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has failed to prosecute firearm offenses, noting that in 2010 only 62 of more than 49,000 attempts by felons and fugitives to purchase guns were referred for prosecution and only 13 individuals were convicted. From 2007 to 2011, Ayotte said, just 13 percent of all federal firearms offenses were prosecuted.
In a presentation lasting more than half the hour allotted for the meeting, Ayotte addressed sequestration, the national debt, federal budget and health care as as well as proposed taxes on Internet sales and medical devices.
In the time remaining she answered questions that New Hampshire State Senator and former Congressman Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro selected from a batch submitted beforehand. None of the questions bore on gun control.
However, under the guise of a question on mental health Peter Harmon raised the issue, saying "the elephant in the room here is gun control." In reply, Ayotte turned the question back to improving the mental health system and enforcing the current laws.
When Harmon pressed her Bradley intervened. "Okay, okay," he said, meaning enough, enough.
"It's not okay," Harmon shot back. "She voted no."
"She answered your question, sir," Bradley said, then, drawing from his cards, recognized a man with a question about the raid in Bengazi, the issue on which Ayotte has dogged the Obama Administration to fully explain the failure to secure the consulate and the lives of four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya .
The man began by thanking Ayotte for her vote against universal background checks, prompting a round of thunderous applause.
After Bradley closed the meeting, Connecticut resident Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School who was shot to death on December 14, rose from her seat to confront Ayotte. Earlier in the day, at a similar meeting in Warren, Lafferty asked Ayotte why she thought the burden on gun dealers of expanding background checks was greater than the burden of her mother being "gunned down in the halls of her elementary school."
In Tilton, Bradley firmly parried Lafferty's approach.
Afterwards Lafferty said that she met with Ayotte's staff before the vote and with the senator after her vote and drove from her home yesterday to confront her again. "She clearly and publicly betrayed my mom," she said. "I'll be here until she, all of them or at least enough of them, do the right thing. It's a run-around," she continued. "I'm not going away. They're going to be sick of me."
Lafferty said her next stop is Houston, Texas, where the 142nd convention of the National Rifle Association opens on Friday.