We’re only a few months in, and 2018 is already shaping up to be another statistical horror for mass shootings and gun violence deaths. And while it’s on-brand for a shooting tragedy to flee the public memory after a few days of somber social media posts, a group of brave high school students are fighting to keep politicians, and the public, accountable more than a month after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The teens have taken to Tallahassee Capitol building, calling for a rebalancing of elected power and gun control reform with the chant “vote them out!”
The tragedy, which has been named one of the world’s most deadly school shootings, came just a month before many states head into primary elections, and coincided with national support for gun control reaching an all-time high. This has many Republicans scrambling to balance public opinion with conservative values (think: big-time support for the second amendment and long-term relationships with the NRA) while Democrats take the opportunity to bolster their pro-regulation candidates, and engage a disaffected base.
Midterm primaries are already underway, and while it’s hard to know how relevant the gun control discussion will remain when general election day hits on November 6, there are still a handful of races that have particular implications for how guns are regulated and well-worth your attention as we search for answers to the nation’s mass shooting epidemic.
Nevada’s Senate Race
Nevada Senator Dean Heller is widely identified as holding one of the most endangered Republican Senate seats in 2018. Heller narrowly won his seat in 2012, and he’s remained suspiciously quiet on gun control since the February shooting in Parkland. He’s been criticized for failing to join lawmakers from California, Texas, Connecticut, and Florida for a White House meeting on gun control, and has failed to take a stance on raising the age for gun purchases, assault weapon bans, and universal background checks. “Not a good look,” some say.
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Heller will face off against conservative businessman Danny Tarkanian, who has generally run on a pro-gun platform, during the Republican primary in June. Whoever wins will likely face Rep. Jacky Rosen in the general election. Rosen, a Democrat, has been outspoken in her support for strong gun control, and three major election analysis outlets have rated the election a toss-up, with a Democratic candidate (likely Rosen) holding a 50% chance of taking the seat. Stay tuned.
Arizona’s Senate Race
Look just southeast of Nevada, and you see an equally (if not more so) competitive race in Arizona. Remember Jeff Flake? He’s the Republican Senator who decided he wouldn’t seek reelection after saying he no longer vibes with Republican politics in the age of Trump. That means we’re looking at an open Senate seat in the Grand Canyon State.
Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and state Senator Martha McSally are neck-in-neck for the Republican nomination, with former state Senator Kelli Ward still holding on. Ward has taken on a pretty moderate stance on gun control, saying she’s “not opposed” to increasing the purchasing age for firearms, and McSally has pretty much toed the party line, historically standing against universal background checks. On the other hand, Arpaio, when not busy getting convicted on contempt of court charges for defying court orders to stop racially profiling residents, has joined the national anti-gun control movement and has been an outspoken critic of many federal gun control laws.
Arizona will hold its primary election on August 28, and the winner of the Republican nomination is expected to face off against Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema in the general election. Sinema holds a pretty moderate record on just about everything, including gun control, but if she were to win, the seat would stay out of reach for candidates with far more conservative views on firearm regulation. This race has also been identified as a toss up.
Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts
Leaders of Minnesota’s suburban 2nd and 3rd districts are walking back their anti-gun control ideals as they work to grab moderate votes in increasingly progressive districts. Representative Erik Paulsen of Minnesota’s 3rd district has come out in support of assessing what he’s called “gaps” in gun policy, and show support for banning bump stocks. However, Paulsen’s likely general election challenger, businessman Dean Phillips says the change of a heart is too little, too late, calling for Paulsen to donate the $20,000 worth of campaign funding he’s received from the NRA.
Early polls show that Phillips, who favors gun control measures including closing gun show loopholes and universal background checks, has a fighting chance at taking the seat, outpacing Paulsen 46% to 42% as of November.
Minnesota’s 2nd district is a similar story. Republican incumbent Jason Lewis has also accepted NRA funding (although far less than Paulsen) and will face off against either Angie Craig or Jeff Erdmann in the general election. Both candidates have expressed support for gun control measures, mostly along the Democrat party line, and the general election has been identified as a toss up.
Minnesota’s House is solidly in the red, but these suburban shifts show that views may be starting to swing in the opposite direction in some of the state’s most populous regions.
Texas’ 7th and 23rd Congressional Districts
Representative John Culberson of Texas’ 7th District and Pete Sessions of the state’s 32nd District are the NRA’s top two Texan BFFs in Congress, according to campaign funding reports, and both stand in opposition to restrictions on gun ownership. Culberson has actively worked to block the use of tax dollars to support gun control measures including ammunition restrictions and Sessions has been an outspoken supporter of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act among other pro-gun access measures.
Texas has some of the nation’s loosest gun control laws, but challengers to both Sessions and Culberson’s seats are suggesting that it’s time to beef up restrictions. Sessions will face either Collin Allred, who describes the nation’s gun violence issue as a “public health crisis” and supports gun control measures including increased background check measures, or Lillian Salerno, who supports efforts including banning assault weapons and increasing age limits for firearm purchase. While the seat was once considered safely Republican, suburban discontent with the Trump administration could give the 32nd district a chance at shifting left.
Culberson is set to face similarly progressive opposition in the general election. Democratic un-off candidates Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Laura Moser both support stronger gun control legislation, and are expected to give Culberson a run for his money come November.
Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, Colorado’s 6th Congressional District
In Virginia, we’re looking at the potential unseating of Representative Barbara Comstock. She’s remained relatively quiet on the gun control front this election season, but reports show that she was one of the top recipients of NRA funding during the 2016 election cycle. It’s pretty unclear which of the seven Democratic candidates will face Comstock, who’s expected to win the Republican nomination, but they’re largely united on increasing gun control legislation.
A Democratic win could mean getting one of the the NRA’s biggest financial recipients out of office. This race will be especially interesting to watch now that the state has elected a new, democratic governor in Ralph Northam, who has been an outspoken proponent for gun control measures including a ban on assault weapons.
Colorado’s 6th district may see a similar unseating of NRA power, as Republican Representative Mike Coffman seeks a tough reelection. Coffman has received an “A” rating from the NRA and more funding than any other Colorado member of Congress. Coffman was booed at a town hall meeting in February, as voters questioned his failure to support tougher gun control, and new poll results show that Democratic challenger Jason Crow, who has called for Coffman to return his NRA contributions, is currently five points ahead .
The Long (but big) Shot: Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District
You know Paul Ryan? He’s the Speaker of the House, Affordable Care Act Hater, and Second Amendment fanboy running for reelection in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. While his campaign financing blows his opponents out of the water, two Democrats are ready to give Ryan a run for his money.
Leading the opposition charge is Army veteran and union ironworker Randy Bryce. Driven by a vote-by-vote campaign strategy focused on representing the working class, Bryce has raised more than a million dollars, and gained the support of progressive icons including Bernie Sanders.
Bryce has also made gun policy reform a mainstay of his campaign. In an op-ed letter published by VICE Impact, Bryce targets Ryan’s “school safety package” response to recent school shootings. “...you are more inclined to listen to the NRA than 97 percent of the American people who support background checks. It says that you will continue to accept more money from the NRA than any other House member, while insisting that the media and others are using their influence to over-exaggerate the situation,” Bryce wrote. “It says that you believe the appropriate response to the slaughter of 17 children and teachers is closer in line with arming teachers than common sense gun reform.”
Wisconsin’s primaries are scheduled for August 14th. Ryan is slated to run against known white nationalist Paul Nehlen and Army Special Forces veteran Nick Polce for the Republican Nomination. Bryce will face Cathy Myers, who has been backed by the American Women’s Party, in the race for the Democratic bid.
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