Voter turnout in midterm elections is typically lower than in presidential election years. But with gun control legislation on the ballot in many states, and a raft of candidates who have taken a strong public stance on the issue, the 2014 “midterms” could go down in history as the election that changed gun control in America for good.
The issue of gun control is increasingly on the minds of many Americans, especially in light of recent gun massacres in schools, movie theaters, workplaces, and even the Navy yard. Just last week a Washington high school freshman armed with a semi-automatic handgun summoned classmates to lunch and then fired shots before killing himself. Four students are dead and one remains in critical condition.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group formed and funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there have been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, in which 20 children and six adults were shot to death. CNN analyzed the 74 incidents and found that 15 were similar to the violence in Newtown, in that a child or adult was actively shooting in or near a school. That translates to about one mass school shooting every five weeks.
Experts Say Guns Are a Major Public Health Issue
Dr. David A. Fleming, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP), told Healthline, “The nation needs reasonable regulation, consistent with the Second Amendment, to keep firearms out of the hands of persons who intend to use them to harm themselves and others, as well as measures to reduce mass casualties associated with certain types of firearms.”
Fleming went on to say it is critical that we develop strategies to prevent massacres like the ones that have occurred over the past several years, as well as day-to-day gun violence. “The ACP is equally concerned about the deaths and injuries that affect our nation on a daily basis when persons are injured, or killed, or commit suicide with firearms. Firearm violence is not only a criminal justice issue, but also a public health threat. A comprehensive, multi-faceted approach is necessary to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and deaths on individuals, families, communities, and society in general,” he said.
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Maryland, told Healthline that in addition to being one of America’s leading causes of premature death, gun violence also has a big impact on our mental health. Gun violence traumatizes family members who are directly impacted by it, as well as their communities.
“Mass shootings can really impact our health and mental well-being,” said Webster. “The media and open forums in which gun violence is portrayed end up in a shouting match between one group who hates guns and another group who nearly worships guns. It’s very unfortunate, because many of the policy solutions to reduce gun violence are basically approaches that are supported by people whether they have guns or don’t have guns, whether they are Democrats or Republicans.”
In fact, in public opinion surveys Johns Hopkins has found that 70 to 80 percent or more ― including gun owners and non-gun owners, Democrats and Republicans ― support the idea that guns should be kept out of the hands of dangerous people, such as those with severe mental illness, convicted domestic abusers, and those with violent criminal backgrounds. Respondents also favor comprehensive background checks for gun buyers.
“It is a common sense, basic attitude that some people are just too dangerous to have guns, and we ought to have a reasonable policy to keep guns from them,” said Webster.
Webster advised the voting public to look beyond candidates’ ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s leading pro-gun lobby. “Some people consider, oh, the NRA gave them an ‘A.’ I’m a gun owner, so the candidate must be good. But you have to look at where the candidates stand on very specific questions about gun policy to really know whether you support their agenda on one of the most important public safety and health issues,” Webster said.
Advocacy Groups Spend Heavily on Issues, Candidates
The NRA has historically poured huge sums of money into supporting pro-gun candidates for public office. The NRA has allocated more than $11 million for this year's elections, according to a Mother Jones report.
The NRA faces opposition from Everytown for Gun Safety, to which Bloomberg has given $50 million. The NRA also faces opposition from Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group founded by Gabrielle Giffords, a former congresswoman who survived a mass shooting in 2011.
According to Philly.com, Giffords has visited nine states in the past two weeks campaigning for tougher gun laws, while the NRA has visited 30 states to promote its pro-gun cause.
Money talks, but voters have the final say. Here’s a summary of some of the gun control measures on the ballot, as well as candidates’ records on gun control issues:
Two Washington Initiatives Center on Background Checks
In the state of Washington, voters will decide on two competing ballot measures on the issue of background checks for gun buyers. If approved, Initiative 594 would expand background checks to guns purchased online, at gun shows, and through private transactions.
Initiative 591, sponsored by Alan Gottlieb, president of the Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation, would prohibit the state from requiring background checks unless a "uniform national standard" for those checks is created.
If passed, 591 could create several confusing legal scenarios. The Mother Jones report explained that a state-level prohibition of this kind could contradict federal law, which already permits states to mandate additional background checks. If 591 and 594 both pass, they may negate each other and lead to a long legal battle.
North Carolina Has Two Pro-Gun Candidates
In North Carolina, voters face a tricky situation. Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate is pro-gun. He helped pass a bill expanding concealed carry (the practice of carrying a concealed firearm on one's person in public) in North Carolina to include school parking lots, public parks, and restaurants that serve alcohol.
Tillis’ opponent is incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, who also supports gun rights, and has voted against bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. However, Tillis also voted for the Manchin-Toomey amendment, which expanded background checks.
Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire Candidates Face Off
In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is in favor of stricter gun control legislation, and he also voted for the Manchin-Toomey bill. His opponent, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, is on the record for supporting pro-gun groups.
In the Third Congressional District race in Iowa, Republican candidate David Young helped block the Manchin-Toomey bill while working as Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-Iowa) chief of staff.
Young's opponent is former state senator Staci Appel, who voted in 2010 for a law prohibiting gun possession by perpetrators of domestic violence.
In the Iowa Senate race, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is running against Republican State Sen. Joni Ernst. Ernst has consistently voted for pro-gun policies.
Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta are battling for New Hampshire’s First Congressional District.
While in Congress, Guinta cosponsored a bill to extend concealed carry permits across state lines. According to Seacoastonline.com, Shea-Porter supports closing the so-called “gun show loophole” so that people purchasing guns from non-federally licensed firearms dealers at gun shows must undergo the same FBI criminal and mental health background checks as those who buy firearms from licensed dealers.
Arizona Congressional Candidates Embrace Gun Control
In the race for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, the incumbent, Democrat Ron Barber, was first elected in June 2012 to fill Giffords’ vacant seat when she was wounded in the 2011 mass shooting. Barber was formerly Giffords’ district director and was also wounded in the shooting. He is seeking re-election to a second full term in 2014. He is running against Republican Martha McSally.
McSally, who has revealed that she was a victim of stalking, has expressed support for a bill that would make it illegal for those convicted of misdemeanor stalking to purchase firearms.
Learn More from the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.