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Ayotte says she supports background checks, even though she voted 'no'

Updated 8:42 p.m. ET
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at a town hall in Warren, NH, the first since voting against a bill that would increase background checks for gun buyers. (Photo by Frank Thorp/NBC News)
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at a town hall in Warren, NH, the first since voting against a bill that would increase background checks for gun buyers.

Updated 8:42 p.m. ET

After watching her approval rating plummet by the double digits, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is now scrambling to control the damage caused by her "no" vote on the recent background checks bill on gun sales. Now, she has written an op-ed to defend her position on the Manchin-Toomey bill.

"I want to set the record straight: I support effective background checks and in fact voted recently to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System," the New Hampshire senator wrote in a article published Tuesday on Patch.

Ayotte was one of the 46 senators who rejected Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey's bipartisan legislation to expand background checks to gun show and Internet sales, countering a recent Public Policy Polling survey that showed 75% of her constituents supported the reforms. Her approval rating subsequently sunk by a net 15 points to 44%.

The survey also showed that half of New Hampshire voters were less likely to support her in 2016, all thanks to that "no" vote on background checks.

Her dip in approval now has the Republican senator on the defensive. In the op-ed, she boasts of having helped introduce an NRA-approved proposal written by her Republican colleagues, Sens. Charles Grassley and Ted Cruz, that unlike the Manchin-Toomey amendment exempts gun purchases from gun shows and internet sales and instead focused on mental health adjudications to the background check record base.

Once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, Ayotte is now a target from the left with groups piling on as popularity drops. Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun violence groups both produced ads to apply pressure on the senator's vote against gun safety. Meanwhile, the NRA, who has awarded the senator an "A" rating, produced radio ads defending her decision to obstruct the "misguided" gun control legislation.

On Monday, Bloomberg’s coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a new television ad, stating that Ayotte is no longer thinking of her constituents but that she has, in fact, "Gone Washington."

In her op-ed, Ayotte said that Congress' focus should be shifted to fixing the current background check system instead of implementing a new one.

"Some of my colleagues want to expand the broken background check system we have now. In my view, we shouldn’t be expanding a flawed system. The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting," the senator wrote. "We need to make sure we are enforcing current law and prosecuting those who attempt to illegally obtain firearms. And we must ensure that NICS includes records currently not being entered in the system, including mental health adjudications where an individual is found to be a danger to themselves and others."

The Republican senator held two town hall meetings last week to explain to voters that she wanted to address mental health gaps in the criminal justice system instead of infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, a reason she attributed for opposing the background check bill.

One of the attendees, Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Sandy Hook elementary school principal Dawn Hochsprung, asked the senator why her mother's murder did not matter to her. Sen. Ayotte replied that the background checks bill would not have stopped last December’s massacre in Newtow.

Ayotte reiterated her sentiments in the op-ed, arguing that the proposed expansion of background checks would not have prevented Adam Lanza from shooting 20 children and six educators dead in Newtown, Conn. "There are no easy answers. Even if the proposed expansion of background checks had been in place, it wouldn’t have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy – where the perpetrator obtained the firearms he used by killing his own mother, who owned them lawfully."

Ayotte also turned down a dinner invitation from a constituent who lost her husband to gun violence. Last week, Anne Lyczak wrote a letter to Ayotte, hoping to discuss ways to reduce and prevent gun violence while the senator was home during the congressional recess.

"I believe that expanding and strengthening our background check system, which has stopped more than two million attempted purchases by dangerous people since its inception in 1998, will save lives," wrote Lyczak. "And this is something that your constituents support -- 89 percent support going beyond the provisions of the Manchin-Toomey amendment to require a background check for every gun purchase."