---- — CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Two men who lost relatives in last year’s shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school urged New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Thursday to change her position on a gun control measure that would expand background checks.
Neil Heslin and Gilles Rousseau spoke at a news conference held by advocacy group Granite State Progress that has criticized Ayotte for voting against a key part of President Barack Obama’s push to curb gun violence. The measure would have required criminal and mental health background checks for people buying guns online or at gun shows.
Heslin’s son Jesse was one of 20 students killed in the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Rousseau lost his daughter, who was one of six educators killed.
Heslin said Newtown, where 26 people “were murdered in less than three minutes,” was like the fictional television community of Mayberry, the setting for “The Andy Griffin Show,” He said he came to New Hampshire on his own behalf to speak out for the gun control measure.
“I feel it’s something I have to do for him,” he said of his son.
Rousseau said he tried unsuccessfully to talk to Ayotte at a town hall meeting she held in New Hampshire. He said he realizes background checks might not have prevented his daughter’s death, but believes the checks are the most effective way to stop felons, domestic abusers, the mentally ill and other dangerous people from getting guns.
“I had hoped that Senator Ayotte, as a mother and former attorney general of New Hampshire, would understand these commonsense facts, but it’s clear from her vote and subsequent statements that she does not,” he said.
Since last month’s gun vote, the freshman Republican senator has been criticized in tough ads aired by gun control advocates led by wealthy New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Ayotte, who faces re-election in 2016, was recently confronted at a town hall meeting by a woman whose mother was killed in the Newtown shooting. Mayors Against Illegal Guns also was a sponsor of Thursday’s news conference. Bloomberg co-chairs the group.
A political group backed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and a group called American Future Fund have aired television ads in Ayotte’s defense.
Ayotte argues the existing law needs to be enforced before expanding it and that the gun control measure would not have prevented the Newtown shooting because the shooter obtained the firearms by killing his mother, who bought them legally.
Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said Thursday that Ayotte has kept her focus on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and improving the mental health system.
“She voted for legislation that had bipartisan support to fix the current broken background check system, increase the prosecution of those who illegally seek to obtain firearms and provide additional resources for school safety, while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. She also worked across party lines to pass a bipartisan amendment in the Senate to strengthen the nation’s mental health system,” Grappone said in a statement.
But Zandra Rice Hawkins, the advocacy group’s executive director, called the alternative bill a decoy bill “created by the Washington gun lobby to give politicians like Kelly Ayotte political cover.”