A number of concerned citizens, backed by NH Project for Safer Communities and Granite State Progress, held a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on April 29 to criticize a recent gun safety vote by U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH.
Ayotte was one of a number of senators who voted against the Toomey-Manchin bill that offered improved universal background check provisions, along with other gun control measures, that recently came before the Senate. All the measures failed. Ayotte, a staunch 2nd Amendment supporter, has stated that she voted against the measure because she believed it would place unnecessary burdens on citizens and gun owners who aren’t criminals.
Ayotte will be targeted by activists at three upcoming town meetings she is hosting in Warren later today, in Tilton at 5 p.m., and Fitzwilliam at noon on Thursday.
The activists, including a number of Concord state representatives, said they were shocked by Ayotte’s votes, especially in light of a number of polls which purported to show solid support for background checks and gun safety provisions.
“It seems clear that Senator Ayotte needs a reminder that New Hampshire isn’t just a pro-gun state, it’s a pro-gun safety state,” said Judy Stadtman, the co-founder of NH Project for Safer Communities, of Portsmouth. “We will not forget that Senator Ayotte passed up a critical opportunity to do the right thing and make our communities safer.”
Rabbi Robin Nafshi of Temple Beth Jacob pointed to tens of thousands of deaths by guns, including many children and at least 60 mass murders in recent years as a need for more background checks. She said most people, including NRA members, were supporters of expanded background checks. She pointed to the Torah that reminded followers to ensure that there were fences around a home’s roof so no one would fall off. Nafshi called for background checks and a national registry for all guns would provide such safety.
“We know that the overwhelming majority of Americans and Granite Staters support these efforts as well,” she said.
Bill Kingston, a veteran and gun owner, and a co-founder of New Castle Promise, a new organization that was started after the Sandy Hook shootings, called Ayotte a political hack who marched the party line even though she campaigned on going to Washington to clean things up. He said he was disgusted with her vote against the background checks.
“We are horrified that the Constitution of the country that we fought for, myself in Vietnam, has been so twisted and tortured by the likes of Wayne LaPierre and the gun manufacturers he represents,” he said. “Responsible gun owners understand that all of our constitutional rights have limitations.”
State Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, who is also a city councilor, said he was “extremely disappointed” with Ayotte’s vote, adding that polls had shown that people in the state supported background checks. He called on residents to contact Ayotte and tell her that the votes were wrong.
“I do hope those citizens of New Hampshire who are a part of that 91 percent who supported universal background checks will attend town meetings an let Senator Ayotte know, first-hand, how disappointed we are, with the lack of representation,” he said.
The activists, including a handful of children, held colorful signs, including requests to stand with the children of Newtown. Kenneth Roos of SEIU held a sign, splattered with red spots that read, “NRA = Domestic Terrorism.”
When asked how many in attendance were Republicans, no one raised their hands. Many did say that it was the first time being active in the gun safety effort although they had been activists on other issues.
When it was pointed out that the Toomey-Manchin bill wouldn’t have prevented the Newtown shooting and that most gun advocates were focused on legislation that would actually prevent future school shootings instead, Stadtman said that anyone in the room would turn back the clock to prevent the Sandy Hook shootings, if they had the opportunity. But, she said, most people knew that background checks worked, and kept guns out of the hands of criminals.
“They are quite effective,” she said. “I don’t think it is an either-or. We have an onslaught of gun violence in America right now.”
Nafshi said 40 to 60 percent of sales at gun shows were individuals selling guns or re-selling guns without having to go through background checks. Even saving one life, she said, “is as if to save the world.”
Ayotte, a former New Hampshire Attorney General, is getting some support for her vote. The popular Greg and the Morning Buzz radio show aired an ad April 30 to tout her "courage to oppose misguided gun control laws that wouldn't have prevented Sandy Hook." New Hampshire members of the NRA paid for the ad.
UPDATE 2, 11:23 a.m.
When asked for official comment about the gun vote criticism, Ayotte's office forwarded a WMUR-TV link, featuring an interview from April 25, where the senator talks about her votes.
UPDATE 3, 12:20 p.m.
Jeff Grappone, Ayotte's communications director, also offered the following statement:
“These attacks are misleading. Senator Ayotte voted for legislation that had bipartisan support to fix the current broken background check system and increase prosecution of those who illegally seek to obtain firearms, and she also worked across party lines to successfully pass legislation to strengthen the nation's mental health system.”