Politics & Government

Senate race reveals deep divide on gun control

Deborah Ross, a Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. The candidates disagree over how much the federal government should limit gun sales, a division that mirrors the national debate over who should be able to purchase firearms.
Deborah Ross, a Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. The candidates disagree over how much the federal government should limit gun sales, a division that mirrors the national debate over who should be able to purchase firearms.

The three candidates for U.S. Senate from North Carolina disagree over how much the federal government should limit gun sales, a division that mirrors the national debate over who should be able to purchase firearms.

The two-term senator, the former state representative and the pizza deliveryman each have different outlooks on how and when gun rights should be restricted. Republican Sen. Richard Burr has voted down legislation that would have made it more difficult for suspected terrorists to obtain firearms. Yet he approved of an amendment that would allow the U.S. attorney general to block gun sales to those terrorists if the government has credible evidence that the individual is a threat. The amendment is attached to legislation that has yet to be approved.

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Deborah Ross spent her time as a state representative voting against almost all key state legislation on firearms, according to data collected by the voter-education website Project Vote Smart. She tried to block state legislation that would allow North Carolinians to carry concealed handguns into restaurants and state parks as well as legislation that gave judges permission to take concealed weapons to court. State residents with concealed carry permits can now take their guns into restaurants, and judges with the same types of permits can take their firearms to work.

Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh, who ran for the Senate in 2014, has expressed a strong desire to protect the Second Amendment while addressing the cultural problems that have led to gun violence.

Their views

Burr said in an email statement that he favors gun-control restrictions that would prevent terrorists from using guns to carry out attacks against U.S. citizens but only if those restrictions do not infringe on the rights of U.S. citizens. He said he supports background checks for gun buyers and believes the country should enhance its background check system.

The Second Amendment and the Fifth Amendment are enshrined in our Constitution, and we must not withhold the constitutional rights of Americans without due process under the law. Withholding a constitutional right under a secret government-owned list without any due process is wholly un-American.

Sen. Richard Burr

“I believe that we must keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists,” Burr said. “I support ‘no fly, no buy,’ as long as such proposals also maintain the due process rights of American citizens. I also believe we must address gaps in mental health access and enforce the gun laws that are already on the books, and I have supported legislation that would do so.”

The phrase “no fly, no buy” refers to a legislative measure that aims to prevent individuals on the government’s terror-watch list from buying weapons. It failed to gain enough support.

Ross said she also favors protecting the rights of U.S. citizens who want to own firearms. But, she said in an email statement, there must be a way to protect that right while preventing dangerous individuals from accessing weapons.

“I support the Second Amendment,” she said. “I also agree with the vast majority of gun owners that we have to take common sense steps to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, domestic abusers, dangerous criminals and the seriously mentally ill.”

We can protect our constitutional rights to own guns while keeping them away from people we all agree should not have them.

Deborah Ross

Ross has also called for gun safety by thorough background checks that would weed out potential terrorists and people with a violent history, according to a June 28 campaign press statement. She has attacked Burr for his lack of support for gun-restriction legislation. The amendment he supported would block gun sales to terrorists but the government would have had only three business days to determine whether someone had committed a crime or was about to. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, crafted the amendment.

Haugh has said the federal government should stop sending the message that it is acceptable to kill people to solve political problems – referring to overseas operations, such as drone strikes in Iraq and Yemen.

“We really need to address how people will pick up a gun or use lethal force … to solve their social or political problems,” he said. “But if we went in the direction of gun control and tried to ban certain things, we’d only drive the problem underground. It will only take guns out of the hands of law-abiding people and keep them in the hands of people who mean to do us harm.”

We need to stop using war and sales of arms as a first resort to try to solve foreign policy problems. We need to work with our police so that they stop using deadly force as a quick solution.

Sean Haugh

Their records

During her tenure as state representative, Ross voted against all but one key piece of state legislation on firearms, according to Project Vote Smart data. The legislation that won her backing prohibited sheriff’s departments and firearm dealers from making public gun permit records. That information would be made available only to state and local law enforcement agencies upon request, according to North Carolina General Assembly documents. The legislation never became law.

Burr has a symmetrical voting record on key firearm legislation. He has voted to pass gun legislation a little more than a dozen times, according to Project Vote Smart records. He has favored legislation that would preserve the Second Amendment, allow people with concealed gun permits to take their weapons across state lines and increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.

But he has also voted down a dozen pieces of key gun legislation since 1996, including one that would have prevented people from owning assault weapons. More recently, the Senate thwarted efforts by Democrats to institute various gun-control measures, including one that would have required buyers to endure stricter background checks

Republicans have argued that tighter gun-control measures like “no fly, no buy” could negatively affect people who aren’t terrorists but whose names appear on the terrorist watch list. For example, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., was once mistaken for an Irish Republican Army activist and denied the right to board a plane.

Haugh said he has not been impressed with attempts made by Burr and Ross to resolve the problem.

“People are looking for really cheap solutions to try to say that they’ve done something about gun violence,” he said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article wrongly called Deborah Ross a former state senator in one instance. She was a state representative.

Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048, @MolotovFlicker