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Suburban Voters Pressure GOP on Guns   08/18 09:52

   GOP candidates looking ahead at tough races increasingly are eyeing new ways 
to address anxieties about gun violence, and to do that without crossing the 
party's base, which sees gun restrictions as an infringement on the 
constitutional right to bear arms.

   GILBERT, Ariz. (AP) -- Following the news has grown stressful for Angela 
Tetschner, a 39-year-old nurse raising four children in this sprawling Phoenix 
suburb of tile roofs, desert yards, young families and voters who are 
increasingly up for grabs.

   "Sometimes I do think about the school shootings," said Tetschner, who 
doesn't pay much attention to politics but has been disappointed in President 
Donald Trump, days after sending her 5-year-old boy to kindergarten. She'd like 
to see Congress tighten gun laws, but her expectations for action are low.

   "You can't not put your kid in school," she said. "I just hope and pray that 
nothing happens."

   Tetschner's worries are weighing heavy on Republicans in Arizona and 
elsewhere in the wake of recent mass shootings. The party has seen 
once-reliable suburbs turn competitive as women worry about their children's 
safety and bristle at Trump's harsh rhetoric on race and immigration, and they 
embraced Democratic alternatives in last year's midterm elections.

   GOP candidates looking ahead at tough races increasingly are eyeing new ways 
to address anxieties about gun violence, and to do that without crossing the 
party's base, which sees gun restrictions as an infringement on the 
constitutional right to bear arms.

   "Republicans' backs are already against the wall among suburban voters, 
particularly college-educated women," said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant. 
"And the inability of our political system to pass what most Americans see as 
commonsense reforms related to gun violence only makes the matter worse."

   That tension is palpable in Arizona, a state with an ardent gun culture as 
well as a growing population of newcomers seeking sun, jobs and affordable 
housing in the suburbs that ring Phoenix.

   Republican Sen. Martha McSally's challenge is to navigate that divide. The 
freshman senator is facing a difficult reelection fight, probably against 
Democrat Mark Kelly , a former astronaut who became a prominent gun-control 
advocate after his wife, then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the 
head in an attempted assassination in Tucson in 2011.

   While gun control often fades from the conversation weeks after a 
high-profile shooting, the issue is likely to be a steady presence in this 
race, but not determine the outcome by itself. "It's a part of their 
decision-making process, but it's only a part of it," said David Winston, a 
Republican pollster who advises GOP congressional leaders.

   Pressure on McSally has been evident since shootings in California, Texas 
and Ohio. She has adopted a softer tone and spoken forcefully against hate and 
domestic terrorism. A vocal supporter of gun rights who once called universal 
background checks unconstitutional, McSally now says she is open to talking 
about new gun laws. She also says she intends to introduce legislation to make 
domestic terrorism a federal crime.

   "We all need to do our part, whether there's a federal element, a state 
element, a society element," McSally told reporters in Phoenix on Thursday. 
"Let's figure out what we can do that's meaningful, that's thoughtful, that's 
not political theater in order to stop these crimes."

   McSally's message echoes what other Republicans are saying.

   After two shootings killed 31 people in less than 24 hours, President Donald 
Trump started talking about tougher background checks on gun buyers and 
prominent Republicans expressed support for laws that make it easier for 
authorities to seize weapons from people deemed suicidal or dangerous.

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a longtime opponent of gun 
control laws, said the Senate could not fail to act, although he ignored a push 
by Democrats to call lawmakers back from summer recess to debate the issue.

   McSally's hopes for holding her seat hinge on holding onto voters in suburbs 
such as Gilbert, Mesa and Scottsdale where Republicans have traditionally 
performed well but saw their fortunes wane in last year's midterms. Before she 
was appointed to the seat held by the late Sen. John McCain, McSally narrowly 
lost a 2018 Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, partly due to voters on the 
outskirts of Phoenix who split their tickets, voting for both Sinema and 
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

   McSally said her talk about changing gun laws is not new. She said that as a 
congresswoman, she sponsored an National Rifle Association-backed bill to 
improve background checks by making sure the database of people barred from 
owning guns is complete. But her openness, at least rhetorically, to new 
restrictions is a departure from her responses to earlier large-scale shootings.

   After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year, McSally told an 
Arizona newspaper: "We have to address how we deal with those dealing with 
mental health issues."

   The Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of about 50 GOP members of 
Congress representing suburban districts, believes women in suburbs 
overwhelmingly support action.

   Suburban women "want their guns, but they also want some kind of background 
checks," said Sarah Chamberlain, the group's president and CEO.

   Democrats have reason to be skeptical of Republican pledges on gun 
legislation. Trump has shifted gears before, under NRA pressure. McConnell has 
not taken up a House-passed bill approved in February that would require 
background checks for most private sales, including online and at gun shows, 
and not just for transactions involving registered gun dealers.

   McSally, who may face a primary challenge from an opponent of gun 
restrictions, is against the House bill. She said the shooters in El Paso, 
Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, were cleared to buy firearms. She said she is 
concerned about making criminals of people who lend a gun to their family 
members or close friends without a background check.

   Kelly called on the Senate to approve the House bill.

   "To do nothing is irresponsible and dangerous," Kelly said in a statement 
released by his campaign.

   Polls show McSally's red line on universal background checks does not align 
with the views of most Americans and may even face skepticism in Arizona.

   Sixty-two percent of midterm voters in the U.S. and 56 percent in Arizona 
said gun laws should be made tougher, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the 
2018 electorate. A March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public 
Affairs Research found about 8 in 10 Americans in favor of a federal law 
requiring background checks on all gun buyers, including at gun shows and by 
private sale. Three-quarters of Republicans backed the idea.

   "Should a gun be sold online to just anybody? No," said Brittany Barnum of 
Mesa, Arizona, a 32-year-old mother of a 3-year-old. Barnum, who voted for 
Trump, said she's considered homeschooling her son out of concerns about school 
shootings.

   Tetschner, the mother who lives outside Phoenix, said she is not against gun 
ownership, but would like to see "strict rules" to ensure people with 
psychological issues do not buy them.

   "It's kind of getting old," she said, keeping a close eye on her two younger 
children chasing jets of water shooting from the ground of a splash pad on a 
hot morning. "It's to the point where I guess I assume nothing's going to get 
done, because it's happened a few times and nothing's been done."


(KR)

 
 
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