Arizona Congressional delegation feels political pressure as vote on gun control nears
As Congress prepares to vote on some high-profile gun control measures, the media campaigns on both sides of the issue are making a last minute push to get their messages heard in Arizona.Political observers said Arizona is among a dozen states considered an important player in the future of national gun policy.
Since the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December, advocates for and against gun control have been raising funds and buying ads in hopes of making an impression on senators and representatives who are still unsure how they’ll vote.
“There are tens of millions of dollars being spent by both sides," said Ed Perkins with the non-partisan Morrison Institute of Public Policy at Arizona State University.
He has been watching the debate over gun control very closely and said right now both of Arizona’s Republican senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are under a lot of political pressure.
“I think both McCain and Flake are sensitive to the issue, and I suspect that’s one reason why they’ve been relatively quiet. They are trying to get a sense of what people are thinking and what makes the most sense for the state of Arizona," Perkins said.
McCain and Flake’s staff members have not responded to interview requests about the gun control measures, but Flake’s office sent an email that said the senator has received hundreds and hundreds of calls and emails over the past few weeks from supporters and opponents of the gun control measures.
Both senators announced this week that they don’t intend to join the Republican filibuster against the new gun control reforms.
“It’s a tough one for them. I don’t envy their position," Perkins said. "They’re likely to get slammed either way. If they vote against the legislation in Congress they’ll get criticized, and if they vote for it they’ll be criticized, but they have been respectful of their constituents.”
It’s hard to pin down exactly how much money campaigns for and against gun control have spent so far this year.
To put it in perspective, last year 2012, an election year, the NRA spent more than $2 million lobbying Congress while gun control groups spent $180,000, according to Pro Publica, an independent public interest journalism group.
This year, the Super Political Action Committee created by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband has raised money for television ads like one that shows news footage taken when Giffords testified on Capitol Hill in favor of gun control reforms.
“Congress must act…let’s get this done," Giffords said in the ad.
Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly said a measure that would expand background checks to all gun buyers could have prevented the Tucson man who shot Giffords in 2011 from getting a weapon.
In the meantime, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his group “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” will spend $12 million for a television ad campaign in Arizona and some other states.
The ad blitz is getting the attention of gun rights advocates like Chris Knox with the Arizona Firearms Coalition. He reflected on the Connecticut school shooting.
“They can parade all of the victims out there that they want to and they can dance in the blood of the children from Newtown all they want. None of the laws that they are putting up there will do a dime’s worth of good for those children and will not prevent a death like that," Knox said.
Knox said his group has been campaigning against the gun control bills on Twitter and other social media platforms. He said grassroots groups like his are keeping tabs on how Arizona congressional members vote on the gun control reforms, and they will be holding the elected officials accountable in the next election.