Dems are circulating this NBC news article detailing the pressure brought to bear on GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte at a town meeting today over her No vote on Manchin-Toomey:
The daughter of a Newtown victim confronted Sen. Kelly Ayotte after a shouting match erupted at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, where more than 100 people crowded into the small meeting building in this tiny northern New Hampshire hamlet. [...]
Among them was Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School and was killed in the Dec. 14 shooting there. Lafferty began by thanking Ayotte for meeting with her a few weeks earlier, in Washington, immediately after the gun vote.
“You had mentioned that day you voted, owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn’t more important than that,” Lafferty said. Ayotte responded: “Erica, I, certainly let me just say – I’m obviously so sorry.”
“And, um, I think that ultimately when we look at what happened in Sandy Hook, I understand that’s what drove this whole discussion — all of us want to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Ayotte said.
Ayotte defended her vote at the top of her remarks, pointing to her background as a prosecutor. “Where we are right now, my focus has been on wanting to improve our current background check system,” she said. “Frankly, we have fallen down on actually prosecuting gun crimes and violations of our current background check system.”
I have no doubt that Ayotte’s sorrow about Erica’s loss is genuine, but substantively speaking, her response is deeply weak. This debate isn’t just about preventing another Sandy Hook. It’s about doing something to stem an epidemic that continues to kill thousands of Americans per year. Despite the constant claims on the right that “expanded background checks wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook,” which is true, the families themselves don’t see this as relevant; they are pushing for gun control in order to prevent more shootings from tearing apart other people’s families later. “I’m not just here for the 26 that died at Sandy Hook,” another family member said recently. “If we can make any steps forward to help save lives, then it’s a step worth taking.” And, yes, there is plenty of evidence that expanding background checks would reduce gun crime.
What’s more, Ayotte’s suggestion that we should better enforce current laws and improve the current system is bogus. For one thing, there are other reasons why current enforcement has lagged that have nothing to do with whether the background checks themselves have proven effective in interrupting the transfer of guns to prohibited people — which is the goal of the policy. And there is no reason why we can’t improve the current system — which does need improving – while simultaneously expanding it. It’s a shame Ayotte responded to Erica with these warmed over talking points.
Ayotte is not the only GOP Senator to apparently be feeling pressure on guns. Jeff Flake today conceded that his recent dip in a poll by the Dem robofirm Public Policy Polling was caused by his vote against expanded background checks. “I would assume that my poll numbers have indeed taken a southerly turn since my vote against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal,” he said. “It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it.” (PPP has found serious slippage for other Senators who voted No, too.)
All of this said, there are no indications that these Senators are prepared to change their votes, and there is not another vote on Manchin-Toomey scheduled for anytime soon. Such a vote won’t happen until there are genuine signs that one or two or three Senators are prepared to flip. While I’m told that there are still multiple conversations underway, there’s no sign that this is imminent.
It’s good that gun control advocates are beginning to bring pressure to bear that shows that a political price will perhaps be paid for this vote. That’s crucial, and it cuts a bit against the conventional wisdom which held that the effort would die completely after Manchin-Toomey’s defeat. That said, it’s still unclear whether any of it will end up mattering.