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What to know about gun control and safety for the 2018 midterm elections

Attention to gun-related issues has heightened since the last time Pennsylvania and New Jersey voters sent anyone to Congress, the result of several high-profile mass shootings.

Gun control and gun rights have emerged as big issues leading up to Election Day.
Gun control and gun rights have emerged as big issues leading up to Election Day.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

What’s at stake

Attention to gun-related issues has heightened since the last time Pennsylvania and New Jersey voters sent anyone to Congress, the result of several high-profile mass shootings since the November 2016 elections: 26 killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas; 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; 58 killed and 850 injured in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Philadelphia police have reported more than 600 homicides in that time frame, most of them by firearm.

Gun-control advocates and their opponents view the midterms as critical. If Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives, that would increase the chances of passing — or simply voting on — gun-related legislation.

"If we get an election where we replace 40 or 50 members of the House … we can pass a background-check bill or domestic violence legislation," Mark Kelly, the astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, said in Chester County last month.

The National Rifle Association, urging its members to get out the vote, said, "This year, there are a number of key U.S. House and Senate races that we absolutely must win in order to ensure we keep our pro-gun majorities in Congress."

It's less likely the power balance will shift in the Senate, meaning the chance of any gun-control legislation becoming law would remain slim regardless of the House makeup.

>> VOTERS GUIDE: View candidates in the 2018 midterm election based on your address, or browse all the action in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

Key races

Pennsylvania's First Congressional District: In this closely watched Bucks County race, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was endorsed by the Giffords organization and Everytown for Gun Safety. He has supported raising the age for buying semiautomatic weapons to 21, a bill allowing families to take out temporary firearm restraining orders against relatives in mental crisis, background checks, and banning bump stocks. He voted against a concealed-carry reciprocity bill, but said he believed in the concept. He also voted to prevent the Veterans' Affairs Department and Social Security Administration from sharing mental health records with the national background-check system.

Democratic challenger Scott Wallace, who rallied Tuesday with the father of a Parkland victim, backs universal background checks, temporary restraining orders, raising the semiautomatic purchase age to 21, biometric trigger locks, and banning assault weapons, high capacity magazines and bump stocks. He opposes arming teachers, fortifying schools, and concealed-carry reciprocity.

Pennsylvania's Sixth Congressional District: One of the seats that could swing the House for the Democrats, this Chester County race will choose the replacement for retiring Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, who supported various gun-safety measures.

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, a military veteran, has prioritized gun-control in her campaign, holding in September a meeting with gun-violence survivors, activists, and Kelly and Giffords. Giffords, Everytown and the Brady Campaign endorsed her. She favors universal background checks, renewing the assault weapons ban, restricting high-capacity magazines, and allowing the CDC to study gun violence.

Republican Greg McCauley, an NRA member, says he supports both "common-sense gun safety" and the Second Amendment. He backs expanding background checks, raising the purchase age for semiautomatic firearms to 21, and expanding mental health care. He also supports concealed carry reciprocity, fortifying schools, and armed officers in schools, and opposes renewing an assault weapons ban.

Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District: This race in south-central Pennsylvania is tight, making it high-stakes: GOP Rep. Scott Perry is a longtime gun-rights advocate. He supported NRA-backed legislation to make it easier to buy silencers and in 2016 introduced a bill proposing to block President Obama from taking executive actions aimed at preventing gun violence. As a state legislator, he sponsored the 2011 bill that expanded the so-called castle doctrine in Pennsylvania.

George Scott, his Democratic challenger and a military veteran, supports universal background checks, banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, increasing school security, and funding for the CDC to study gun violence. He released a campaign ad during the primary (since taken offline) in which he burned a rifle.

U.S. Senate in New Jersey: New Jersey has gone decades without sending a Republican to Congress, but the race between incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, and Bob Hugin, a Republican, has become tighter than expected.

Menendez has been a strong gun-control advocate. He has introduced or supported legislation to restore the assault weapons ban, require universal background checks, ban high-capacity magazines, keep terrorists from buying firearms, and other measures.

Hugin, a former Marine, has said he supports gun owners' rights but also supports expanding background checks and banning mentally ill people from having guns.

Latest developments

The Parkland shooting brought new energy to the gun-control movement, with marches held nationwide in March, including in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Candidates have focused on school security, talked about reaching young voters, and addressed guns more frequently. Some Democrats are pushing gun-control platforms, something the party largely avoided in recent years, while many Republicans have embraced alternative proposals, such as arming teachers or fortifying schools with metal detectors.

Answering your questions

Based on your questions in response to our election text alerts on this topic, here's an additional guide to help you figure out what different candidates think.

Additional resources

Other key issues in Pennsylvania and New Jersey races