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Splitting the Check 

Arizona senators disagree on the need for better background checks, red flag laws

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Kelley Ireland, an activist with the Tucson chapter of Moms Demand Action, had a message for U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's staff at a recent meeting with constituents at a Tucson library.

She and her fellow moms supported Sinema in her tight race against Republican Martha McSally last year. Now she wants Sinema to back legislation designed to reduce gun violence.

"We helped elect Kyrsten, we worked on her campaign and we are her constituents and as our shirts say, we demand action for gun sense in America because there are just far too many shootings that are happening," said Ireland. "There are about 100 people who die every day from gun violence and twice as many are injured."

click to enlarge Kyrsten Sinema - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Kyrsten Sinema

Ireland pointed out that while mass shootings deserve to make national headlines, random gun violence happens on a daily basis. She recalls a shooting in Globe, Arizona, last November that left two people dead.

"That's my hometown, and when it starts happening in small rural areas of 7,000 or 8,000 people, that's pretty sad," Ireland said. "Many of us are survivors, I am a survivor of gun violence. We've either had someone murdered that we love, or suicide by someone that we love, or we've been shot ourselves. We have real reasons to want action."

Following America's latest high-profile mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, gun-control advocates across the country to once again push for legislation that would strengthen background checks, make it easier for to take guns away from people who are exhibiting violent or threatening behavior, prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines and ban military-style assault weapons.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill some are calling the most substantial gun control measure in 10 years. After the July weekend of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, President Donald Trump briefly suggested he wanted to see Congress pass stronger background checks before walking back his support.

Republicans lawmakers are facing increased pressure to pass some kind of legislation to address gun violence, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has sidestepped calls bring the chamber back into session early from their August recess to vote on bills.

Moms Demand Action wants both Sinema and Arizona's other senator, Republican Martha McSally, to support a federal law requiring universal background checks. Such universal background checks, which require background checks on all gun sales, have been instituted in 12 states. Arizona does not have them.

Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct a background check on the gun purchaser before they sell it. But in most states, when someone who is not a licensed dealer wants to sell a gun, they are not required to do a background check—and in fact, they do not have access to the list of prohibited possessors.

click to enlarge Martha McSally - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Martha McSally

Moms Demand Action also want Sinema and McSally to support a federal law that mirrors the "red flag" laws now in 17 states. This type of legislation allows family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove guns from a person who is deemed a risk to themselves or others.

Extreme risk protection orders (a similar type of legislation to red flag laws) place a focus on protecting victims of domestic violence by allowing friends, family members or law enforcement to remove guns from individuals who threaten those they live with.

"If a situation exists where there is a gun in the home, a woman is about 25 times more likely to be murdered or killed," Ireland said. "Extreme risk protection orders would temporarily remove guns from people that are threatening others with gun violence."

Sinema spokesperson Hannah Hurley said the senator supports expanding background checks, as well as a slew of initiatives that seem to address other issues related to gun violence: bills that expand access to behavioral health services, bills that expand mental health first aid training for first responders and school staff, bills that enact scientific research to help understand and reduce the causes of gun violence, and more.

"Kyrsten believes the levels of gun violence in the United States are unacceptable, and wants to see both parties forge a productive conversation surrounding firearms," Hurley said in an email.

McSally's position is more of a mystery. Her office did not respond to questions regarding where she stands on universal background checks or red flag laws by deadline. In the past, she's voted to expand access to firearms and sponsored NRA-backed legislation that was designed to make it easier for people who had been determined to be mentally ill by the courts to have their rights to own firearms restored. While she said she wanted to prevent stalkers from acquiring firearms in her 2014 campaign, she has not sponsored any legislation to do so.

McSally has dismissed calls for expanded background checks on gun sales, telling Phoenix's KTAR News 92.3 that the shooters in Dayton and El Paso both passed background checks before they killed a combined 31 people earlier this month.

click to enlarge Mark Kelly - COURTESY PHOTO
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  • Mark Kelly

The topic of gun laws are sure to be front and center in McSally's upcoming campaign to keep the Senate seat she was appointed to last year after she lost her campaign against Sinema. She is likely to face Democrat Mark Kelly, the retired NASA astronaut who worked with his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, to form Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political organization that advocates for tougher gun laws, after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six adults dead. Last year, the organization renamed itself after Giffords, who herself survived a 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson that left six dead and 13 wounded.

Kelly supports the background-check legislation passed by the House of Representatives as well as better red flag laws.

"The answer to what we're seeing cannot be to do nothing," Kelly told the Weekly in an emailed statement. "As a gun owner and a veteran, I believe we can pass common sense laws that will reduce gun violence and make Arizona safer while also protecting the Second Amendment. The Senate should act right now on the bipartisan background checks proposal. To do nothing is irresponsible and dangerous." ■

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