NH voters hold Ayotte accountable for gun control votes

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Last week, the voters of New Hampshire sent U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) packing and replaced her with Gov. Maggie Hassan. For me, it was a bright moment in a challenging election. 

Let me explain: Nearly four years ago, my mom, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, was murdered trying to protect her students at Sandy Hook School from a killer. My mom was an educator to the core, my best friend and my hero. Every day, I wake up and remember anew that she was killed by someone who should never have gotten his hands on a gun.

{mosads}Having my mother killed has changed me. I became an advocate for gun safety. I refuse to be silent. 

Just months after my mom was killed, the U.S. Senate was set to consider the Manchin-Toomey bill that would have expanded background checks for gun sales. I joined other gun violence survivors on Capitol Hill asking senators to vote for stronger gun laws. As a fellow New Englander, I tried to meet with Sen. Ayotte, but she never made time to talk to me.

Then she voted against the bill. In a subsequent constituent meeting in her office, Ayotte told me that expanded background checks would be a burden on gun store owners. That was her word – a burden. As if having my mother murdered in an elementary school was not a burden I will live with for the rest of my days.

Not long thereafter, Ayotte hosted a town hall in the town of Warren, N.H. I flew home to Connecticut from a vacation in South Carolina, woke at the crack of dawn and drove there. I wanted a better explanation of Ayotte’s vote against expanded background checks – a policy that 82 percent of Americans and 74 percent of NRA members support.

I was early. Her staff wouldn’t let me in. I overheard them telling each other that I was the Sandy Hook principal’s daughter. They knew who I was and what I had been through, and they didn’t want to let me speak. Eventually, I got inside and wrote a question for Ayotte on an index card. My question wasn’t selected for her to answer.

I sat right up front in Ayotte’s field of vision. I raised my hand and waved it to ask a question. Finally, at the urging of the crowd, Ayotte called on me.

“You had mentioned that the burden to owners of gun stores that these expanded background checks would cause,” I asked. “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?”

She said she was sorry for my loss. She mouthed words about making the country safer. And she took the coward’s way out, blaming mental health rather than easy access to guns for gun violence, even though our country has similar rates of mental illness to other developed countries but 25 times the rate of gun homicide.

I was infuriated. There I was — a 27-year-old girl whose mother had been murdered — and she didn’t have enough respect for my dead mother to give me a legitimate answer. 

So I walked out of the town hall, followed by reporters. And I vowed to keep holding Sen. Ayotte accountable for her bad votes on background checks until her constituents voted her out of office.

Since then, Ayotte has never agreed to meet with me. But I have tweeted at her every week, asking for lunch or to meet, inviting her to spend holidays with my family and showing her photos of my mom and my niece who will never meet her grandmother.

This summer after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Ayotte voted against expanding background checks again. So I made the trek to New Hampshire again, hoping to speak with her. With a clutch of New Hampshire volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, I stood outside an Ayotte event as her car drove by us without stopping.

That’s not how a sitting U.S. senator should treat her constituents. It’s not how she should treat gun violence survivors.

Right to the end of her campaign, Ayotte carried water for the extreme gun lobby rather than representing the 80 percent of her constituents who support expanding background checks. In one of life’s little ironies, the NRA did not reward her for this loyalty. Even as the NRA spent more than $25 million on the U.S. Senate, it hung Ayotte out to dry, barely contributing to her campaign.

Last week, New Hampshire voters had the chance to tell Ayotte how they felt about her record.  Last week, they had a chance to hold her accountable after more than three years.

They kicked out Kelly Ayotte and replaced her with Gov. Hassan, who has supported stronger gun laws and stood with survivors.

Mommy and all my fellow survivors of gun violence, this one’s for you.

Erica Lafferty’s mother, Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, was murdered while protecting her students. Lafferty is also a Partnerships Manager at Everytown for Gun Safety.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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