WASHINGTON -- Gun control resurfaced Tuesday as a contentious issue in the race for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, as Democratic Rep. Ron Barber sparred with Republican challenger Martha McSally over stricter gun laws in their first debate.
A question was first posed to McSally on what type of restrictions she believed necessary to prevent gun violence -- a hot-button issue in the district once represented by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who was severely wounded in the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.
McSally ducked the question, pivoting instead to a controversial television ad recently aired by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the anti-gun violence group founded by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. The ad featured a woman whose 19-year-old daughter was stalked and shot to death by her ex-boyfriend, and noted that McSally "opposes making it harder for stalkers to get a gun."
The ad was criticized by several media outlets, particularly after McSally revealed that she was a victim of stalking. After the ad, McSally has expressed support for a bill that would make it illegal for those convicted of misdemeanor stalking to purchase firearms. Following that announcement, Americans for Responsible Solutions took down the ad.
During Tuesday's debate, McSally, a retired Air Force combat pilot, told the moderator that she was a Second Amendment supporter who had "shot the 30mm in combat."
"We can all agree that we want to minimize and we want to make sure that gun violence obviously is addressed in our communities and we have different ways of talking about that," McSally said.
"But the way that this has happened in this campaign has just been disgraceful. There were ads that were run by your allies that were considered vile and nasty by the Arizona Republic," McSally added. "And we repeatedly asked for you to stand up against them. And Mr. Barber, you wouldn't do it -- day after day, you wouldn't do it. They finally took the ad down because it was so horrendous. And you have an opportunity now tonight to denounce that ad and apologize. Do you believe that ad was wrong, Ron?"
Barber, who served as Giffords' district director and was himself wounded in the Tucson shooting, seemed to distance himself from the ad. He pointed out that McSally continues to oppose legislation that would expand background checks, an issue Giffords' group has spotlighted in its advocacy during the 2014 midterm elections.
I really want to be really clear with this question, because it's important to me as a survivor of a mass shooting, as someone who believes in the Second Amendment and supports it. And what happened to you, Martha -- what you said happened to you was horrific. It should happen to no woman. I've got two daughters, I've got three granddaughters. I want to make sure that they're protected. I want to make sure that you're protected and every woman is protected. That ad was not run by me, and I'm not going to talk about an ad that I didn't sponsor.
But when you talk about allies, the ad was run by someone who is highly regarded in this community and across the country for her work to prevent gun violence and that's Gabby Giffords. But that aside, what my opponent has said is that she now accepts the notion that we should have misdemeanor stalkers prohibited from having a gun. The problem with her position is that she still refuses to say we should expand background checks. Forty percent of the guns purchased in this country are purchased outside of the background checks system. My opponent says she wouldn't expand it, I believe we must.
A survey commissioned by Americans for Responsible Solutions of Arizona's 2nd Congressional District found that 86 percent of voters believe that requiring background checks for all gun sales is "an excellent or good idea," and 69 percent said background checks would have an impact on reducing gun violence in southern Arizona.
McSally, while running for Giffords' seat in 2012 in a race she lost to Barber, said further restrictions on gun laws would be "unconstitutional."
“I have the right as a private citizen to sell my possession to anyone I want to. It's my lawful right," McSally said at a GOP debate. "So, just like I can sell my car, I can sell my gun. And so, that's the law, and that's not a loophole. It's freedom."
The race between Barber and McSally is rated a tossup by Rothenberg Political Report/CQ Roll Call.
After the debate, Hayley Zachary, executive director of ARS, issued the following statement:
Just like the corporate gun lobby that backs her, Martha McSally wants to protect the loopholes that allow domestic abusers, convicted felons, and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns without a background check. With her position on background checks on all guns sales so out of step with nearly everyone in Southern Arizona, it's no wonder Martha McSally doesn't want to say where she stands. In contrast, Ron Barber had no hesitation about making his position clear: he supports commonsense laws that will help reduce gun violence in our communities without interfering with the rights of responsible gun owners.
This story has been updated to include Zachary's comments.