Editorial: Ayotte’s misdirection isn’t working
Magicians rely on misdirection to fool audiences and pull off their tricks. So do politicians when asked tough questions, as Sen. Kelly Ayotte has been at venues like her town hall meeting in Tilton this month. At that event Ayotte relied on misdirection and a magician, former congressman and current state Sen. Jeb Bradley. The one-time professional magician screened audience questions for Ayotte and made many of the ones about her anti-gun control vote disappear. Nice trick.
Ayotte was the sole member of Congress from New England to vote against the Manchin-Toomey bill, a bipartisan effort that among other things would have required that background checks be done on people seeking to purchase a firearm at gun shows like the ones held in Concord at the Everett Arena. Ayotte’s vote triggered an avalanche of criticism, which isn’t surprising since nearly 90 percent of the state’s residents support expanded background checks. What is surprising is how inept Ayotte’s attempts at misdirection have been.
The senator repeatedly faulted the bill’s requirements for being too burdensome on gun dealers but without ever saying just what that burden would be. In most cases a background check takes just a few minutes to complete, and the bill exempts private transactions like the sale of a gun to a friend or relative. Ayotte’s explanation took an even more bizarre turn earlier when she said she was concerned that the bill could lead to the creation of a registry for gun owners, something the bill doesn’t just forbid but would make a felony.
The attempted misdirection continued with Ayotte’s attempt to explain her vote and rebut her critics in a column that appeared in the Monitor and elsewhere Tuesday. In it Ayotte explains that she voted for improved background checks before voting against them. But the Republican-backed bill Ayotte did support would do nothing to expand background checks at gun shows and it would have weakened gun laws as much as strengthened them. That’s why it had the backing of the National Rifle Association.
Ayotte began by accusing “out-of-state special interests” of running ads attacking her and lying about her work to reduce gun violence. But the organizations running ads criticizing Ayotte’s vote aren’t exactly fringe groups, nor are they secretive about who they are. One is Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. More than 950 mayors have signed on, including Nashua’s Donnalee Lozeau and Dover Mayor Dean Trefethen. We encourage Concord Mayor Jim Bouley to join as well.
The other group running ads is Americans for Responsible Solutions. It was founded by former Arizona congresswoman and mass shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords, a hunter and gun owner, and her husband Mark Kelly, a retired Navy captain and space shuttle commander. Both groups targeted Ayotte because they believe that citizen pressure could lead her to reconsider her vote when, as its supporters guarantee, Manchin-Toomey comes up again. The downside for Ayotte of reversing her vote and angering gun rights zealots and the NRA, which is running TV ads on her behalf, is too big for that to happen. Instead, Ayotte is counting on voters to forget that though she was once the state’s former top law enforcement officer, she voted against the wishes of most in law enforcement and against improved public safety.
The bill Ayotte voted against might have made another mass shooting a bit less likely. But by keeping guns out of the wrong hands, however imperfectly, it would also have meant fewer domestic homicides, suicides and crimes involving guns. The public wants tougher background checks. Proponents of them should try again with another bill and make sure voters will know where Ayotte stands.