Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, we polled Skimm’rs about the biggest issues facing the country. And over 60% of those surveyed said that if a candidate had opposing views on gun laws, that’d be a dealbreaker. Not to mention that nearly all respondents across generations said personal safety (which includes things like gun laws) is important.
Skimm’rs aren’t the only ones who think so. Nearly 90% of voters said gun policies are an important issue, according to a New York Times survey. And politicians are paying attention: More than 100 TV ads from Republican candidates and support groups have featured guns in an attempt to galvanize their base, according to the New York Times.
With all that in mind, guns will undoubtedly be on the ballot in November — either directly (think: ballot measures) or indirectly (think: candidates). So let’s dive into how your vote can make a difference.
The state of gun laws
Since 2022 began, there’s been an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, TX. A grocery store shooting in Buffalo, NY. A Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park, IL. And more than 350 other mass shootings.
And in 2020, over 45k people in the US died from gun-related injuries (think: murders, suicides, unintentional shootings) – which was the highest number ever recorded since 1994. Plus, murders involving a firearm in 2020 increased 35% from the year before.
But some states have seen more gun violence than others: Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama have the highest firearm mortality rates. And they are among the states with the highest gun ownership. Meanwhile, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York are among the states with the lowest firearm mortality rates — and some of the lowest gun ownership.
A growing number of public health experts are calling gun violence in America an epidemic. And as the country with the highest rate of gun-related deaths compared to other wealthy nations and the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, the federal government has implemented a number of laws and rulings to limit – or expand – access to guns.
But which laws impacted access to guns?
This year, the federal gov passed the The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which helps to close the “boyfriend loophole" (so convicted domestic abusers can’t buy a gun for five years), strengthens background checks for those under 21, allocates funding to support crisis intervention services (including the implementation of state Red Flag laws), invests in mental health services, and more. All of which amounts to the first major federal gun safety legislation in over a decade. Prior to that, there was:
NICS Improvement Amendments Act (2007): Authorized the Attorney General to be able to get info on people disqualified from receiving firearms.
Child Safety Lock Act (2005): Defined what a firearm "locking device" is, and made it illegal for a licensed manufacturer or seller to sell, deliver, or transfer a handgun without a locking device.
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994): Included the assault weapons ban, but was only in effect from 1994 to 2004.
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993): Established a national instant criminal background check system for firearm licensees and an interim five-day waiting period for handgun purchases.
Firearms Owners' Protection Act (1986): Amended the GCA to also prohibit the civilian transfer or possession of machine guns and amended the definition of a silencer in the NFA. But there were also protections included for gun owners. Some were outlawing a national dealer records registry and permitting dealers to sell guns at gun shows.
Gun Control Act (1968): Passed after JFK, Robert Kennedy, and MLK were killed and regulated interstate and foreign commerce in firearms.
National Firearms Act (1934): Created a $200 tax on the making and transfer of firearms, including shotguns, machine guns, and rifles.
The Second Amendment: Guarantees citizens the right to bear arms (aka own firearms).
But as for state laws, they can vary widely. In California, your firearm must be unloaded if you’re transporting it and it can’t be concealed. While in Alabama, you don’t need a background check to carry a concealed gun. And in Alaska you can carry a concealed gun without a permit. That also includes New York, after SCOTUS ruled 6-3 that a NY law requiring gun owners to have a permit to carry a gun in public is unconstitutional — a huge expansion of gun rights.
Power players: Who actually has control
At the federal level, the president, senators, and representatives could impact access to guns. And at the state level, governors, attorney generals, and state senators and representatives can all directly impact your state’s gun laws. (Learn more about these positions and others here.)
Races to watch
In many places across the country, guns will be at the forefront of the 2022 midterm elections. A few to keep on your radar are:
Iowa: An amendment would change the state’s constitution to include the right to bear arms and would “require strict scrutiny” by the courts of any violations.
Oregon: Initiative 17 would make it mandatory for people who want to buy a gun to qualify first for a permit.
Florida’s Senate Race
Stakes: Florida has the third most gun violence deaths in the country, with 3,041 gun-related deaths in 2020. Plus, it has a history of mass shootings. In 2018, 17 people were killed at a high school in Parkland, FL. And in 2016, 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL.
What to know: Rubio is one of the senators that has benefited most from the NRA and has openly tried to expand gun rights. Example: He voted no on The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Meanwhile, Demings, whose district covers much of Orlando (she was also the city’s first female police chief), has fought for gun safety reform since being elected to Congress in 2016.
Louisville’s Mayoral Race
Stakes: Guns have played a unique role in this race. In February, Greenberg was the target of a shooting inside his campaign office — though he was left unharmed. Plus, Louisville is one of more than 10 cities that broke annual homicide records last year.
What to know: While both candidates want to reduce violence, the two have different views on how to do so. Dieruf, who has been the mayor ofJeffersontown, KY since 2010, wants to focus on policing. While Greenberg wants to crack down on illegal guns.
Pennsylvania’s Senate Race
Stakes: According to Politico, the anti-gun violence group Giffords, founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, is putting its funds towards the Pennsylvania (and Florida) Senate races.
What to know: Fetterman openly supports gun reform. But in 2013, while mayor of Braddock, Fetterman chased an unarmed Black man with a shotgun after hearing gunshots nearby. Meanwhile Oz, a TV personality and physician, defends gun rights. So much so that he fired a variety of guns in one of his campaign ads. And says he “opposes anti-gun measures like red flag laws and liberal gun grabs.”
Texas’ Gubernatorial Race
What to know: Since Abbott was elected governor in 2014, there have been many mass shootings in Texas, including a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso and the Uvalde school shooting. During that same time period, Texas has loosened gun restrictions— which is why O’Rourke has called out Abbott’s administration. In contrast, O’Rourke has promised to repeal permitless carry.
Gun laws are changing across the country. And as the US remains one of the top countries in the world for gun violence, candidates are latching on to this problem and campaigning either to expand or restrict access to guns.
Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.