No matter where we stand on guns and background checks, we can all agree that reading a list of people killed by guns without checking the names to see if any of the individuals were, oh, say, bombers or felons, was bad judgment. That is what happened in Concord when the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns held a rally nearly two weeks ago. The names included Tamerlan Tsarnev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers. Although the group apologized for the mistake, New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Jennifer Horn has been flogging the group, including founder New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and anyone in New Hampshire associated with it.
With important elections taking place in 2014, I wondered why Horn focused so intently on an admitted mistake, long after the group apologized, instead of on someone actually running for office next year. But then someone explained the strategy to me. One, it distracted attention from the nasty behavior of so-called "gun advocates" who staged a counter rally. I put quotes around the term "gun advocates" because none of the gun owners I know would have behaved the way the counter protesters behaved. Two, Horn was trying to insulate Sen. Kelly Ayotte from any more television ads by the mayors' organization attacking Ayotte for her vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have expanded background checks before gun purchases. Ayotte's popularity plummeted following that vote.
While Horn has been complaining from Coos to the sea about Mayors Against Illegal Guns for its admitted mistake, she has been deadly quiet about those who tried to bully the folks calling for background checks. One of the speakers at the event was John Cantin. Mr. Cantin's daughter was shot and killed by her estranged husband four years ago. Just as we can all agree that the list read at the rally contained mistakes, we also all should agree to show respect and compassion for a man who lost his daughter to gun violence. Instead of respect and compassion, however, the "gun advocates" heckled Cantin, trying to drown him out. One person yelled that his remarks were "propaganda s**t," while others started chanting "Ayotte, Ayotte." One of the hecklers went up to Cantin while he was speaking to get in his face, trying to interrupt him. Later, that individual was Tasered by Concord police and charged with resisting arrest.
I'm not sure what the hecklers were trying to accomplish by harassing someone whose daughter was a murder victim. The scene was described as "ugly" by news outlets. But for some reason, Jennifer Horn's tirades against the mayors' group has failed to include criticism of those whose venomous actions towards a victim's grieving father were shameful and embarrassing.
Horn's selective criticism does not change the facts: The overwhelming majority of Granite Staters support universal background checks. Kelly Ayotte may try to run from that fact, and Jennifer Horn may try to hide it, but polls by both Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire have shown large majorities supporting background checks. A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner showed that 56 percent of gun owners believe Ayotte should change her vote on background checks.
Those numbers may explain reports that Ayotte is engaged in talks with Sen. Mark Begich on changes to the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would permit them to change their votes. While Ayotte's spokesman denied the existence of such talks, Ayotte's actions on other issues show she recognizes that the political winds have shifted against her.
As a candidate three years ago, Ayotte drew a hard line on immigration, attacking primary opponent Bill Binnie for supporting "a pathway to citizenship for illegals." What a difference declining poll numbers make. In announcing her decision to vote for immigration reform, she hailed the effort as a way to bring undocumented immigrants (no longer using the term "illegals") out of the shadows to offer a way to earn citizenship.
Her tepid response to the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act was another sign of a chastened, backpedaling Ayotte. Ayotte supported DOMA, and during a 2010 debate said DOMA should not be overturned. After the Court's decision, however, instead of reacting with righteous indignation, she said the Supreme Court was the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality.
Time will tell if Ayotte also will backpedal on background checks. Meanwhile, her party chair should do the right thing and disavow the Ayotte supporters who harassed a grieving father.
Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party from 1999-2007.