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In Arizona's Competitive Senate Race, Gun Control Is A Major Issue


Democrats are trying to put up a united front on gun control. Presidential hopefuls have joined forces in a new ad.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: We have accepted the unacceptable for too long.

BERNIE SANDERS: And we're going to stand up, and we're going to fight.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Insist, demand, use the strongest possible terms.

JOE BIDEN: Push and push and push...

MARTIN: Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are pressuring Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up legislation. The debate over new restrictions could have political implications in one of the most competitive Senate races next year in Phoenix, Ariz. KJZZ's Bret Jaspers tells us about an incumbent senator battered from both sides.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Republican Martha McSally faced many questions about guns during the recess and said she'll propose a bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime. She also indicated on KJZZ in August that she supports federal incentives for states to set up red flag programs.


MARTHA MCSALLY: If somebody knows or really feels like their loved one is a threat and they're trying to get an intervention to get them the help that they need or to make sure that they don't have access to weapons to hurt themselves or others, what is it that can be done to go before a judge in a very emergency - you know, emergency way that also protects their due process so that it's not abused and us incentivizing that?

JASPERS: Arizona's governor, who appointed McSally to the Senate, has proposed a state red flag program. And while McSally acknowledged the background check system can be improved, she didn't endorse background checks for purchases at gun shows or over the Internet.


MCSALLY: What's left in that space that can address any concerns where people might fall through the cracks but also allows law-abiding citizens to be able to have some flexibility with friends and family and people that they know for their own constitutional rights?

JASPERS: But McSally might not have much political flexibility on guns. She's getting pressure from a new primary opponent, Daniel McCarthy, who said on Facebook he rejects red flag laws. President Trump has already endorsed McSally, though. Her likely general election rival is Democrat Mark Kelly.

MARK KELLY: I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment. I own more firearms than probably your average person in Arizona. I don't look at it as a burden to have to get a background check if I'm going to buy a firearm.

JASPERS: Kelly is not just another candidate when it comes to the gun issue. He's the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was injured in a 2011 shooting and later resigned. Six people died. The two have since become national advocates for gun control.

Kelly says there should be a national red flag law, not just incentives for state programs. He also endorses background checks for gun show and Internet sales. He said McSally should get behind a background check bill that the House passed earlier this year.

KELLY: It makes a couple more challenging things that, if you are somebody who is a felon or a domestic abuser or you're - you've been adjudicated mentally ill, it's more challenging to obtain the firearm.

JASPERS: These kind of policy differences was the focus of a recent March for Our Lives event in Phoenix. The student organizers, who want more gun restrictions, asked yes-or-no questions like this.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Do you support universal background checks and closing the gun show and private sale loopholes?

JASPERS: Gun control will likely persist as a major issue in the race simply because Kelly is a candidate. Jennifer Longdon is a Democrat in the Arizona State Legislature. Like Gabby Giffords, she's a victim of gun violence, paralyzed in 2004 in a drive-by shooting.


JENNIFER LONGDON: Our mere existence in a space brings the issue of gun violence and gun violence prevention with us, whether we choose to talk about it or not.

JASPERS: Longdon and other advocates say there's been a shift in the issue nationally and in Arizona. And the state's new status as a battleground should make the debate here even sharper.

For NPR News, I'm Bret Jaspers in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.
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