Challengers cornering Ayotte on guns ahead of election

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WASHINGTON — New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, currently engaged in a heated campaign to win a second term and keep the Senate’s balance of power tilted in favor of the GOP, is beginning to show a willingness to break from her party to confront controversial gun issues.

On Tuesday the Nashua Republican along with a bipartisan group of senators introduced a proposal that would bar citizens from buying firearms if they are on the TSA’s No-Fly List or Selectee List for extensive airport screening. The day before, Ayotte referenced the proposed legislation on the Senate floor.

“I think we can all agree that we do not want terrorists to purchase firearms,” Ayotte said Monday. “Unfortunately, where we find ourselves is our typical political football — and I believe we should stop playing political football with something so important.

“If you’re too dangerous to board a commercial plane, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t buy a gun — it’s as simple as that.”

During Tuesday’s unveiling of the latest proposal, Ayotte said she hopes the legislation will help “stop the politics” surrounding the issue.

“This is a common sense, bipartisan proposal, to ensure that terrorists cannot purchase firearms,” Ayotte said. “No-Fly, no-buy, and this is one that ensures that Americans have the due process protections that they need to challenge the finding if they believe it is wrong.”

A section of the proposal allows individuals to appeal a firearm denial and to recover legal fees if they prevail.

Ayotte’s position, however, has drawn scorn from both sides of the political aisle. Jim Rubens, a former New Hampshire state senator and Trump supporter who is challenging Ayotte in the New Hampshire Republican primary, accused her in a prepared statement of being “demonstrably opposed” to constitutional gun rights.

“Ayotte wants to ban people on the No Fly List from purchasing a firearm, depriving them of a fundamental constitutional right until they appeal to court to affirm their innocence,” Rubens said, adding that the proposal would not have prevented the recent Orlando massacre that left 49 club-goers dead earlier this month.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who trails Ayotte by a single percentage point according to a recent Boston Herald poll, on Tuesday accused Ayotte of “trying to have it both ways” after she voted against a proposal that sought to increase background checks for prospective gun buyers.

The expanded background check proposal, introduced in December by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), fell by a 48-50 vote. Hassan’s camp accused Ayotte of being one of the “deciding votes” that resulted in the defeat of the Manchin proposal.

“Despite her political maneuvering, it’s clear that Ayotte can’t be trusted to put the safety and security of the people of New Hampshire ahead of the gun lobby,” Hassan’s campaign manager, Marc Goldberg, said in a prepared statement.

Besides Ayotte, the other common denominator linking Tuesday’s dueling statements from the Hassan and Rubens campaigns is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The Bay Area Democrat was mentioned in both statements — with Rubens slamming Ayotte for “standing with Dianne Feinstein, one of the most anti-gun senators in the country.”

Ayotte was one of a handful of GOP senators who voted to back legislation Feinstein introduced Monday that sought to provide the U.S. Department of Justice with the ability to block gun sales to people suspected of having ties to terrorism. Feinstein’s proposal failed to advance.

Hassan’s camp, however, criticized Ayotte for voting against a proposal introduced by Feinstein in December that would have banned individuals on terror watch lists from buying guns.

Caught in the middle, Ayotte defended her decision to back Feinstein’s proposal but acknowledged it had flaws and noted that its defeat was “predictable.”

“I voted to advance them so we can have this debate and an opportunity to get a result for the American people,” Ayotte said in prepared remarks.

Rubens, however, wasn’t letting up on Tuesday on his criticism of Ayotte. The Republican challenger, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination for Senate in 2014 but who lost in the primary to Scott Brown, outlined several instances in which Ayotte supported gun control legislation, including instances during her time as the state’s attorney general in which she opposed a “stand your ground” proposal and also expressed opposition to carrying a concealed, loaded weapon.

“She has shown the people of New Hampshire she opposes our Constitutional rights,” Rubens’s statement declared. “With the federal government narrowing liberty in so many directions, we must send a true constitutionalist to Washington.”

Meanwhile, Hassan’s backers are also ramping up attacks from the Left, accusing Ayotte of “standing with the Washington gun lobby” in a recent advertisement paid for by Americans for Responsible Solutions, a pro-gun control group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.).

The pro-Hassan group also recently completed its own survey of 400 likely voters and determined that the Granite State governor actually holds a four point lead over Ayotte.

As for Ayotte’s current push to pass what her office has dubbed a “compromise” gun control bill, a CNN report claims that any gun-related legislation will likely hinge on whether it can get any support from the powerful National Rifle Association.  The proposal could be subject to a vote as early as Thursday.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told the network she’s confident the proposal will pass and added that she expects all 46 Senate Democrats to be on board, meaning the bill will need supporting votes from just 14 Republicans.

Ayotte joined eight other senators in unveiling the bill on Tuesday. Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins is spearheading the compromise effort.

“There’s no doubt that we all share the goal with the horrific terrorist attacks in Orlando that we have to do all that we can to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorists,” Ayotte said. “But this attack also did highlight the urgent need to address the terrorist loophole and we are doing that today by ensuring that we introduce this bipartisan legislation that we hope will get a vote on the Senate floor and get passed.”

Read a summary of the proposal:

Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act of 2016 by Evan