The Battle Over Gun Control Follows Key Senators Back Home

There's no place like home for Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after they voted to kill the bill expanding gun background checks.

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Douglas Graham / Getty Images and Mark Wilson / Getty Images

From Left: Senator Kelly Ayotte and Senator Jeff Flake.

The battle over the future of gun control in America fled Washington, D.C., this week for home states of Senators who voted against requiring background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows and over the Internet.

New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, and Montana Democrat Max Baucus have been fending off town hall participants and broadcast ads knocking them for their vote. The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have been propping them up. With no resolution in sight, such home-state politicking is likely to grow over the coming year. “In 2014, our ever-expanding coalition of supporters will work to make sure that voters don’t forget,” warned New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is in charge of the anti-gun violence group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

At a town hall Tuesday in Tilton, New Hampshire, Sen. Ayotte fielded a question on gun safety, saying she wants “criminals to be fully prosecuted,” before trying to move the conversation to one about 1st Amendment rights and the media. Zandra Rice Hawkins, a member of the group Granite State Progress, interrupted and asked, “So why do you let them [criminals] get the guns in the first place?” Unsatisfied with Ayotte’s response, Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the elementary school principal who died during the Sandy Hook shooting, walked out to the crowd’s cheers. The man taking questions then attempted to move the conversation to one related to the Benghazi embassy attack. You can see the video here:

That was the second time Tuesday Lafferty confronted Ayotte. In Warren, Lafferty asked the Senator, “You had mentioned that the burden to owners of gun stores that these expanded background checks would cause. I’m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn’t as important as that?” In response, Ayotte said, “I’m obviously so sorry…for what you have been though…The issue wasn’t a background check system issue in Sandy Hook. Mental health is I hope the one thing I hope we can agree on going forward and getting done.” After Ayotte was finished, Lafferty stormed out. In February, Obama gave Lafferty the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, on behalf of her mother Dawn Hochsprung.

The New Hampshire Republican has a 44 percent approval rating, according to a left-leaning Public Policy Polling poll released last week, a 15 percentage point drop since October. Part of the drop may be attributed to a TV ad from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and a radio ad from Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group run by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. These groups have public opinion on their side; a February WMUR Granite State poll reported that 84% of New Hampshire residents approve of expanding background checks to gun shows. The NRA and National Shooting Sports Association each responded with their own radio ad.

Meanwhile in Arizona, Sen. Jeff Flake has had to respond to a new PPP poll that shows him to be the least popular Senator. After just three months in office, only 32% of Arizona voters approve of Flake. On Facebook, Flake wrote, “Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you’re the nation’s least popular senator. Given the public’s dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.” He assumes his numbers took a “southerly turn since my vote against the background check proposal.” “It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it,” he said.

And Mayors Against Illegal Guns hasn’t let him forget it. The group has released a TV spot in addition to full-page ads in publications of The HillNational Journal, POLITICO, and Roll Call using Flake against himself. In February Flake bluntly stated, “We need more effective and broader background checks.” According to the group, 90% of Arizonans favor mandatory background checks for all gun buyers. Flake told Slate that the proposal’s “definition of commercial transaction as basically anything touching the Internet…is far too broad.”

Max Baucus returned to Montana to find a full ad attack waged against him by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC). The group is running a new TV ad, shown below, and bought full-page ads in 20 Montana newspapers grilling him on his gun vote. PCCC must be hoping that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) isn’t bluffing when he says that his proposal will be resurrected in the Senate because Baucus is retiring in 2014. Despite the fact that 79% of Montanans support background checks, Baucus explained why his vote with one word: “Montana.”

Two weeks ago, Obama stood in the Rose Garden surrounded by victims of the Sand Hook shooting and said, “This effort is not over. I want to make it clear to the American people we can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence, so long as the American people don’t give up on it.”

And they haven’t yet.