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Concord Monitor: Ayotte’s ‘no’ vote helps defeat background check legislation in U.S. Senate

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By BEN LEUBSDORF

Monitor staff

 

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte cast one of the deciding votes yesterday to sink legislation that would have required background checks for guns bought over the internet or at gun shows.

 

The New Hampshire Republican was one of 46 senators who voted to block the proposal by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. It required 60 votes to advance under Senate rules, but only received 54.

 

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, voted for it.

 

Ayotte was one of the final senators to take a position on the legislation to expand background checks. When she announced yesterday morning she would oppose the proposal, it became clear it wouldn’t pass when the vote came later in the day.

 

“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. “While steps must be taken to improve the existing background check system, I will not support the Manchin-Toomey legislation, which I believe would place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and allow for potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales.”

 

The Manchin-Toomey proposal would have expanded background checks for gun buyers, requiring them for sales made at gun shows and online. Many private sales, such as those between family members, would have remained exempt.

 

It had been pitched as a compromise measure while Congress debates gun control legislation in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed by a gunman.

 

“Conducting background checks on individuals seeking to purchase firearms is a matter of common sense and the Manchin-Toomey bill provided a bipartisan framework to help meet that objective,” Shaheen said.

 

Ayotte instead threw her support behind a Republican alternative, the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act, introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. It would, among other things, reform the background check system without expanding checks.

 

That proposal fell short of the 60-vote threshold, 52-48, as did several other gun control measures yesterday.

 

In a statement from the White House, President Obama denounced “the gun lobby” and Republican senators for blocking the Manchin-Toomey legislation.

 

“There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this. It came down to politics. . . . All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama said.

 

The New Hampshire Democratic Party blasted Ayotte for her vote against the proposal.

 

“Instead of supporting this common sense compromise that will help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illness who could be harmful to themselves or others, she is putting the demands of the (National Rifle Association) ahead of the will of the people of New Hampshire,” said party spokesman Harrell Kirstein.

 

But Ayotte got support from Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, a new conservative group.

 

“Granite Staters thank her for recognizing the need to address our country’s mental health care system, while also understanding that the expansion of background checks to private sales does not properly address this concern,” said spokesman Derek Dufresne.

 

He added that the group was “disappointed” by Shaheen’s vote “in favor of an amendment that would seek to increase the reach of the federal government and limit the rights of law-abiding Granite Staters as protected by our Constitution.”

 

In a recent survey, 91 percent of New Hampshire adults said they support background checks at gun shows, while just 7 percent said they oppose such a requirement. The poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center was taken Jan. 30 to Feb. 5 and had a 4.1 percent margin of error.

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