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Ayotte hears about gun vote at gathering

Union Leader Correspondent

May 02. 2013 8:57PM
John Keenan of Winchester asks Sen. Kelly Ayotte, "What is wrong with universal background checks?" at a town hall meeting in Fitzwilliam onThursday. MEGHAN PIERCE (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

FITZWILLIAM - Armed with a teddy bear, a picture of his daughter and her death certificate, Gilles Rousseau of Southbury, Conn., attended Sen. Kelly Ayotte's town hall in Fitzwilliam on Thursday.

Despite his efforts he was unable to ask her why she voted again expanding background checks for guns or present her with the teddy bear, he said.

"I feel like I have to honor my daughter," he said outside the Fitzwilliam Meetinghouse.

Lauren Rousseau died of multiple gunshot wounds protecting children in Sandy Hook Elementary School in November, he said.

Since then he has been passing out teddy bears - 2,500 so far - in her honor and advocating for increased gun control measures.

Rousseau said he was hoping to ask Republican Ayotte why she voted against expanding background checks and said existing laws are full of loopholes.

"Anything that could help lower the amount of guns on the street," he said.

The April 17 Senate vote on background checks received 54 votes, but failed to acquire the 60 votes necessary to overcome any filibuster, essentially dooming the legislation. Other measure also failed, including bans of so-called assault-style weapons, limiting magazine capacities and criminalizing "straw purchasing," which involves buying guns for another person.

Five Democrats and four Republicans each broke ranks with their parties, with Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Majority Leader Harry Reid voting against it. and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, the bill's cosponsor, voting in favor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid initially voted against the bill, but changed his vote.

When the meeting concluded and Ayotte was exiting the meetinghouse, Rousseau said he was able to say hello to her and shake her hand before being "pushed away" by her staff. Other attendees and members of the news media crowded around trying to ask questions or speak to her as she made her exit.

Ayotte started her town hall meeting Thursday afternoon defending her vote against the federal background checks which she was criticized for at a Warren town hall meeting earlier this week by the daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal killed last November.

"Most criminals will get the guns on the street from other criminals or steal them," she said.

Ayotte said she supports efforts to keep guns away from mentally ill people by enforcing existing laws and giving law enforcement the resources they need.

She reiterated her position when she started taking questions.

"It doesn't make sense to me. What is wrong with universal background checks," said John Keenan of Winchester, who after the meeting identified himself as a Republican.

"I have a lot of concern of that leading to a registry," Ayotte said.

The bill's other cosponsor, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, pleaded with his colleagues before the vote, saying the bill specifically prohibited a federal registry.

"Senator Ayotte's positions have been distorted through false attacks," Ayotte's spokeswoman, Liz Johnson, said Thursday night. "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 successfully pass legislation to strengthen the nation's mental health system."

"I believe the focus should be on fixing the broken system right now," Ayotte said. "There are laws on the books right now and those who violate them should be prosecuted."

Other people at the meeting lauded her for her position.

"I am very thankful we have you as a senator," said Chris Leone. "I want to thank you again for sticking to your guns."

Ayotte said many bills are introduced without properly being vetted and she supports a committee approach to drafting bills.

"The committee process is important," she said.

Most attendees clapped wildly when a Fitzwilliam man told Ayotte he has been watching her on television for a long time and that she "looks presidential."

She fielded many questions about entitlement reform. Ayotte said she supports responsible reform of Social Security.

"If we don't reform this program it won't be there for other people," she said.

Kathleen Allen of Peterborough said after the town hall that she had submitted a question, but was not called on and was disappointed those who asked questions were not tougher on Ayotte regarding entitlement reform, saying Social Security is not in as bad a shape as Ayotte made it out to be and her reforms would hurt the people who need it the most.

John O'Brien of Hudson thanked Ayotte for her diligence in pursing the truth about the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, and asked her to keep up her efforts.

"I'm going to continue pursuing this," she said.

Susan Hocking of Walpole stood up and shouted a question to Ayotte asking her why she "voted against equal pay for women."

"We have a legal structure in place," Ayotte said. "I was the first woman to serve as Attorney General (in New Hampshire). I have an 8-year-old daughter. I believe in equal pay."

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