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Editorial: Giffords’ Message; Campaign Puts Spotlight on Ayotte

When the U.S. Senate rejected a measure in April to expand the scope of background checks for gun purchases, most people assumed that the issue was dead for the foreseeable future.

Among those refusing to take “no” for an answer are former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, who were in New Hampshire earlier this month as part of a seven-state tour designed to breathe new life into the issue.

Giffords was shot in the head and greviously wounded two years ago while meeting with constituents. Six people were shot to death in that attack, while 13 others were wounded. Jared Lee Loughner, who has pleaded guilty in the attack, passed a background check and legally purchased a semi-automatic handgun several months before the shooting. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Giffords still suffers significant impairment from the brain injury that was inflicted in the attack. This left Kelly, a retired Navy pilot and former astronaut, to do much of the talking as the couple toured New Hampshire advocating for the background check legislation, which is now languishing as Congress prepares for its summer recess. Why New Hampshire? To persuade Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a freshman Republican who voted against the legislation despite what polls show to be widespread support for it among her constituents, to change her mind.

There were several notable aspects to the visit, including the fact that the couple are strong advocates of Second Amendment rights as well as expanded background checks. To demonstrate that he is no effete Easterner who wouldn’t know a safety from a safety pin, Kelly bought a Savage .30-06 bolt-action rifle at the Village Gun Shop in Whitefield (after waiting less than five minutes for a background check) and then took it out for a spin at a nearby shooting range. The rifle is, he said, the sixth or seventh gun he owns.

But here’s where it really gets interesting. Stan Holz, who owns the gun store with his wife, Sandy, told The Associated Press that he had already received hate mail and angry phone calls for hosting the visit, but did so because he thought it was important to listen to Kelly’s views, whether he agreed with them or not.

For his part, Kelly said that on the visit to Whitefield, he met a few people who disagreed with him about the need for expanded background checks. “You listen to the person first and you let them talk and you try to find some common ground. I think we both understand each other a little bit better,” he said.

Ironically, it appears that Holz and Kelly have a firmer grasp of the importance of the marketplace of ideas to democratic government than does Ayotte. Pleading a prior family commitment, the senator declined to meet with Giffords and Kelly, although she talked with them on the phone about a week before they visited the state.

As with her attempt at a town hall meeting this spring to duck questioning by a woman whose mother was killed in the Newtown school shootings, Ayotte’s refusal to meet with Giffords and Kelly suggests to us that she shrinks from confronting face-to-face the consequences of Second Amendment absolutism.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said at a news conference in Manchester July 5. The message was worthy of the messengers, but we’re afraid the recipient will continue to refuse delivery.