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Jun 21, 2016 10:44 PM

Ayotte joins bipartisan push on guns; Hassan tells NH1 News Ayotte 'trying to have it both ways'

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – When It comes to reaching a bipartisan gun deal, Sen. Kelly Ayotte says it’s time to “quit focusing just on the politics.”

But her Democratic challenger in this year’s U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan, says that the first term Republican lawmaker’s “trying to have it both ways.”

Ayotte spoke Tuesday as a she and the other members of a group of bipartisan senators unveiled a compromise measure that would ban gun sales to people on a narrow list of possible terrorists.

But with the amendment deemed unconstitutional by the powerful National Rifle Association, prospects for passage in the Senate grew more distant.

Ayotte and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine spearheaded the legislation, which was also co-sponsored by fellow Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Heidi Keitkamp of North Dakota, Martin Heinreich of New Mexico, as well as independent Sen. Angus King of Maine are also co-sponsors.

“This is a commonsense bipartisan proposal to ensure that terrorists cannot purchase firearms. No fly, no buy. And this is one where it ensures that Americans have the due process protections that they need to challenge the finding if they believe it is wrong. And if it is wrong, than they can recover their costs in attorney’s fees,” Ayotte said.

“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 Islamist terrorists. But this attack also did highlight the urgent need to address the terrorists 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. And getting beyond politics and working together to make sure that those who are on the no fly list or the selectee list, that terrorists cannot have access to guns,” Ayotte added.

Forty-nine people were killed in Orlando on June 12, in the worst mass murder in U.S. history. The shooter, Omar Mateen, was investigated by the FBI for possible terrorist ties in beginning in 2013.

The amendment would prohibit weapons sales to people on two terrorist watch lists, including the well-known No Fly List. The legislation would also allow American citizens and green-card holders to appeal if their purchase is restricted, and they would get their legal fees recouped if they win. The measure would include a “look-back provision” that requires FBI notification if someone who’s recently appeared on a broader terrorism database purchases a weapon.

The big question is whether the amendment can secure the Republican support needed to advance in the Senate. The chamber’s majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said the amendment could receive a floor vote as early as Thursday. But McConnell’s not supporting the measure. And the NRA’s opposition to the amendment makes securing GOP support much more difficult.

Ayotte’s co-sponsorship of the measure comes one day after she voted in favor of two competing bills (one from Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California and the other from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas) that also aimed to prevent terrorists from purchasing guns. Both amendments failed to reach the 60 votes needed to advance through the GOP controlled chamber.

Ayotte had voted against the Feinstein amendment late last year, after it was first introduced following the San Bernardino, California mass shooting.

In NH1 News interview, Hassan criticizes Ayotte

Speaking one-on-one with NH1 News on Tuesday, Hassan said “I think this is another example of Kelly Ayotte wanting to have it both ways. But her record on opposing commonsense gun safety is really really clear. If Kelly Ayotte were serious about closing the no fly loophole that allows known and suspected terrorists to obtain firearms, she wouldn’t have voted against Sen. Feinstein’s bill in December.”

“Yesterday she voted against expanding background checks which is a critical measure if we’re going to keep known and suspected terrorists from buying firearms on-line or at gun shows. So I really think her record of opposing commonsense gun safety measures is clear and I think she’s trying to have it both ways,” the governor added.

Responding to Hassan’s comments, Ayotte campaign spokeswoman Liz Johnson told NH1 News that “while Kelly is actively leading the push for a bipartisan solution that will keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, Gov. Hassan continues to launch political attacks that suggests that she’s not serious about actually solving this problem.”

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