Newtown, Conn., Victim's Daughter Grills Ayotte in Town Hall

Town halls provide voters a chance to press lawmakers in an intimate setting.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., questions former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in this Jan. 31, 2013, photo.
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The heat is on in New Hampshire for Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

The Republican and former state attorney general was grilled during a town hall meeting Tuesday on her vote against a bill that would have expanded background checks on gun sales by a 27-year-old whose mother had been murdered in the Sandy Hook school shooting.

[PHOTOS: Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Victims]

Ayotte had said she opposed the measure at least in part because of the burden it could potentially place on gun sellers.

"I'm just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't as important?" Erica Lafferty asked.

Ayotte responded offering her condolences for the victims, but stuck to her position.

"As you and I both know, the issue wasn't a background check system issue in Sandy Hook; mental health, I hope, is the one thing we can agree on going forward," Ayotte said.

[READ: Poll: Majority Supports Failed Senate Gun Control Bill]

Many lawmakers have avoided town hall gatherings, where constituents can ask questions directly of their representatives, since the summer of 2010 when the rising tea party directly challenged Republicans and Democrats alike on issues such as taxes, health care reform and the Wall Street bailouts.

Instead, they've preferred more controlled settings with certain constituencies or brief, surprise visits at events like fairs and parades, likely out of sight from the media and a potentially damaging exchange.

In this case, Ayotte made no gaffe, but the image of the daughter of a victim of a school massacre directly questioning a lawmaker who opposed legislation - on background checks which a majority of voters support - still provides a powerful visual.

[PHOTOS: Meet the Women of the Senate]

It also indicates the lengths families of recent victims are willing to go to confront lawmakers opposed to gun control, a direct appeal that could potentially have powerful consequences over time, though it failed in the short term.

The Senate voted against the background measure, a bipartisan bill crafted by two men with a top rating from the National Rifle Association, despite having been directly lobbied by families of the slain children in Newtown, Conn.

Recent polling indicates Ayotte's approval rating slipped since October 2012, which the Democratic polling firm, Public Policy Polling, attributes to her vote against the background check bill. But Ayotte supporters question that and point out the polls, taken nearly six months apart, contain too many variables to prove definitive on any one issue.

Pundits and politicians attribute the widespread Democratic losses in the 1994 midterm election to the last big gun control vote, when lawmakers passed a 10-year assault weapons ban that same year, and that reasoning has caused reticence among Democrats to push for further gun control.

But top lawmakers said last week they expect the background check bill to come up for another vote by the end of the year, after current lawmakers have felt the pressure from voters. Senators like Ayotte, the only Republican in New Hampshire's delegation, will likely prove to be the bellweathers. So far, however, she's sticking to her guns.

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