By John Toole
---- — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is in the political crossfire after opposing the president on gun control.
Ayotte voted with the majority of senators in rejecting the Obama supported gun reform plan, 54-46, proposed in the aftermath of the Connecticut student slayings last year.
The decision is one of the more controversial for Ayotte, coming midway into her term.
A wide majority of Granite Staters, in polling by New England College this winter, supported an assault weapons ban (72 percent) and universal background checks for gun buyers (88 percent).
Ayotte also broke with her New Hampshire colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who backed the gun control plan.
Actress Mia Farrow and baseball writer Peter Gammons were among those criticizing Ayotte’s decision yesterday on Twitter. So was New Hampshire’s Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. Rob Hirshfeld.
“Kelly Ayotte continues to be the voice and face of the right-wing Tea Party fringe,” New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said.
Opinions on Ayotte’s Facebook page were split between those dismissing her vote as shameful and gun rights supporters giving Ayotte “likes” for her decision.
Ayotte’s decision came late. She announced her position the day of the Senate vote, so analysts agree people were playing closer attention to her decision.
“I believe that restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners will not prevent a deranged individual or criminal from obtaining and misusing firearms to commit violence,” Ayotte said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Ayotte said she instead is co-sponsoring legislation to improve the existing background check system, criminalize gun trafficking, and address gaps in the mental health and criminal justice systems.
Spokeswoman Liz Johnson said Ayotte’s office received “many” calls and emails yesterday from people on both sides of the issue.
“Sen. Ayotte has been focused on preventing violence and strengthening mental health while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Johnson said yesterday. “That includes her vote (Wednesday) in favor of the Grassley bill to strengthen reporting requirements and enforcement of the current background system and to boost school safety funding, and her vote (Thursday) for legislation that improves mental health first aid training.
How her vote Wednesday will play out with her constituents remains to be seen.
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said it’s true Ayotte voted against the background checks a majority of Granite State residents said they favored.
“The question is, will a significant number of that large majority come out in three years and vote against Ayotte, based on this issue and this alone?” Scala said.
“Making a comment on a Facebook page is one thing,” St. Anselm College assistant professor of politics Christopher Galdieri said. “Volunteering and donating and organizing in an election three years away is another.”
Ayotte also may have had other political considerations.
Scala wondered what are the odds she would have a conservative primary opponent in 2016, had she voted against a bill opposed by the National Rifle Association.
Galdieri and Scala agreed Ayotte will face a different electorate in 2016 than in 2010. It is a presidential year that will attract independents and the state has leaned Democratic in those years.
“This could be an issue that is used against her to portray her as someone to the right of the mainstream of New Hampshire voters,” Scala said.
Or it could fade away, Galdieri said, if another background checks bill Ayotte supports passes.
Gun rights advocates will know how Ayotte voted, too, Galdieri said. “Certainly those folks will remember her vote as well.”
Gun Owners of New Hampshire, an NRA affiliate, had pressed Ayotte and Shaheen to vote against the plan. The group posted on its website Ayotte’s announcement of her position.
People interviewed in Derry yesterday agreed the nation needs tougher gun laws.
“I don’t believe she should have voted against it,” Sandra Meads of Derry said. “She’s not doing what the people of New Hampshire want her to.”
Meads said she understands the Second Amendment, but that AK-47s weren’t invented when the amendment was written.
“I don’t agree with her vote,” Brett LaBranche of Londonderry said. “Background checks will make a difference in access to guns and ammunition. They will provide protection that is not there now.”
LaBranche acknowledged the rights of gun owners, but said the nation is seeing an increase in gun violence.
Melissa Hoisington of Derry thought Ayotte made the right decision.
“I think bad people are going to have guns, regardless,” Hoisington said.
She admitted gun control is a tough call and she might feel differently if her child was shot.
“People tend to want to blame after what happened in Connecticut,” Hoisington said.
Ashley Wilson of Londonderry said she didn’t know enough about the issue to say whether Ayotte had made the right decision, but she’s sure about guns.
“I don’t know that it’s a good idea to keep guns out there as they have been, especially automatic weapons,” she said. “Guns should be more restricted, 100 percent.”
Dan Beaulieu of Derry said he is neutral on the issue.
“I believe people should have a right to defend themselves,” Beaulieu said. “But automatic weapons belong to the military, not on the street.”
Jeanne Tashro of Londonderry said she has friends on both sides of the issue, though she personally doesn’t like guns.
“I can see multi-round guns being banned,” Tashro said.