11 Races Where Gun Control Will Matter in the Midterms

Democrat Gabrielle Gifford is a former Arizona representative who’s gone through six elections in her state, so she knows exactly what she’s putting her fellow politicians through this midterm cycle. Glifford and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, are using their co-founded super PAC Americans for Responsible Solutions to put pressure on Congress members facing an election this term.

The group is pouring millions into select races in the House of Representatives and Senate to aid a total of 11 candidates and possibly more who are in favor of greater gun control legislation. If only because more anti-gun control proponents lean right, Gifford and Kerry’s efforts lean more to the left. However, that doesn’t mean they’re supporting only Democrats. The group is also backing GOP members up for reelection in two states, as well. Gifford was shot in the head in Tuscon, Arizona, in 2011, and has since become one of the big names behind gun-control efforts.

The group will back Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who voted alongside other Democrats to ban high-capacity magazines, voted against a reduction in waiting periods for guns, and voted against a law that would prevent gun makers and sellers from being sued for their products. He and his opposition, Rep. Cory Gardner (R), were fairly evenly matched as of April, making Colorado a race that could swing one way or the other given the right pressure. While Udall received an F from the National Rifle Association in terms of gun rights, Gardner received an A+.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) are all being backed by Gifford, as well. Landrieu has been focusing on pro-Keystone XL pipeline points, pushing for the jobs it would bring to her state. But in a recent Public Policy Polling study, 44 percent of voters said that they were more likely to vote for Landrieu as a result of her stance on background checks for gun purchases.

Only 26 percent said this position made her less likely to gain their support. Hagan was mentioned in the same polling report. Her state of North Carolina shows 73 percent voter support on background checks, with 22 percent opposed. Specifically, 52 percent of voters responded that they are more likely to vote to have Hagan reelected as a result of her position on background checks. Twenty-six percent said the opposite.

“Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan helped their chances for reelection by supporting background checks. Their constituents overwhelmingly support the stance they took on this issue and are ready to reward them for it at the ballot box next year,” said Dean Debnam, the president of Public Policy Polling, which tends to lean to the left. Hagan could certainly use the backup: She has been dealing with funding to the opposition from the oil billionaire Koch brothers, who ran negative ad campaigns against her in April.

Americans for Responsible Solutions funded Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). The group is also backing Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and, in a more neck-and-neck election, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

The two Republicans are the exceptions, with Americans for Responsible Solutions possibly directing negative efforts toward Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) but making it clear that it has no intention to go after Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska). Both Democrats are incumbents with difficult races against them. “We would in some ways love nothing more than to have a bigger list of Republican incumbents we could support,” said ARS senior adviser Pia Carusone to Politco.

Part of the group’s goal is to break the traditional mindset that being pro-gun control means a person can’t also be pro-Second Amendment rights. “There’s a lot of Democratic incumbents on this list but it’s not entirely that. It’s a bipartisan list,” Carusone told Politico.

In light of anger following the Sandy Hook, Aurora, Fort Hood, and most recent shooting on the University of California Santa Barbara campus, sentiment is particularly high in favor of gun control efforts — though backlash can be expected. As Carusone pointed out, the group would likely be more bipartisan if the opportunity presented itself. Michael Bloomberg is another name putting big bucks behind gun-control efforts.

But while the shooting in California has again put the focus on gun control laws in the United States, congressional action is unlikely.

What ultimately has been deciding much of the policies on guns in the U.S. has been a mix of voter preferences, politicians’ responses to their electorate’s preferences, and the disproportionate power dynamic between the NRA, Second Amendment gun rights interests, and their opponents. The biggest name — and wallet — in gun control efforts lately has been Bloomberg, with a $50 million contribution to the effort.

When it comes to gun control, there’s a predictable pattern in the United States that appears to unfold in the case of each successive shooting gaining national attention. The cycle begins with an event and is followed by a fear of guns, demands for control, then fear from Second Amendment proponents of a loss of rights, and eventually a legislative pushback against any anti-gun policies.

What results is predictable. As The Washington Post’s Danny Franklin pointed out quite recently, since Sandy Hook, most gun laws that have passed through state legislatures have actually reduced gun control.

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