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At Tilton town hall, Kelly Ayotte finds support, protests of background-checks vote

  • U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte held a town hall at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte held a town hall at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Erica Lafferty, daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, walks out of the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Erica Lafferty, daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, walks out of the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte held a town hall at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte held a town hall at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Erica Lafferty, daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, walks out of the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Erica Lafferty, daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, walks out of the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte held a town hall at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Erica Lafferty, daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, walks out of the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte held a town hall at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Erica Lafferty, daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, walks out of the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte found both supporters and opponents at a town hall-style meeting yesterday in Tilton – including a small group of protesters who, upset over her vote two weeks ago against expanded background checks, briefly interrupted her remarks.

It was the New Hampshire Republican’s second town hall of the day, following a similar event in Warren. At both, the issue of gun control was front and center.

On April 17, Ayotte joined most Republicans and a few Democrats to block legislation in the U.S. Senate that would have required a background check to buy firearms online or at a gun show. She’s taken criticism for that vote, since polls showed strong support in New Hampshire for some expansion of background checks.

Instead, Ayotte supported an alternative proposal that would have, among other things, reformed the background checks system but not expanded such checks. It too was blocked.

“I felt that this piece that I did support, which was bipartisan, addressed the issues that we should be addressing right now, which are making sure that we improve and enhance our background checks system . . . making sure we were enhancing resources for prosecution of gun crimes” and addressing “very significant deficiencies in our mental health system,” Ayotte said yesterday in Tilton.

The crowd of about 250 in the Winnisquam Regional High School cafetorium seemed mostly supportive of Ayotte, applauding frequently, including after a man thanked her for her vote against the background checks legislation.

But nearly an hour into the event, a woman interrupted her as she was speaking about gun control and related issues.

“Excuse me, let the senator finish, please. . . . Okay, okay, okay,” said state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who moderated the event.

“It’s not okay. She voted no,” a man shouted, as two other protesters held up signs, including one that read, “Background Checks Save Lives.”

One of the protesters was Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, a liberal group that has been organizing protests of Ayotte in the wake of her vote.

“We want her to know that people are concerned about it. . . . This is really something that people really are concerned about and feel passionate about,” Rice Hawkins said after the event.

In the crowd was Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was among the six adults and 20 first-graders killed in the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Lafferty had spoken with Ayotte at the earlier Warren event, and she walked out during the Tilton event in apparent frustration.

Ayotte took a dozen questions in Tilton from people who wrote their name and a topic on cards. She discussed taxation, Social Security, the attack last September on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, and other issues.

No one was called on to ask about background checks, though one man recognized to ask about the mental health system did also ask about gun control.

Bradley said many questions were submitted on guns, both supportive and critical of Ayotte’s position, but he decided to select questions on other topics since she had addressed the issue at the beginning of the event.

“I felt that she had answered the question on what her position was, and I was trying to play fair to everybody that was in the room and get a broad range of questions,” Bradley said.

About three dozen gun control supporters protested outside the building before the event, carrying signs reading, “Our Kids Deserve Better” and “NH Stands with Sandy Hook.” They were joined by about two dozen Ayotte supporters carrying signs including, “We Support Kelly” and “Thank You Kelly.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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