As part of its series on essays from the two candidates for U.S. Senate – incumbent Senator Pat Toomey and challenger Katie McGinty — the Philadelphia Inquirer today published essays from the candidates focused on this question: “What measures would you support at the federal level to help deal with gun violence in Pennsylvania’s cities?”  The fact that this is one of the key questions posed to the candidates in the run up to election day demonstrates how important the issue is.  The fact that both candidates are fighting for the title of who would be better on this issue shows that the voters are being heard: to win in PA, you need to address the scourge of gun violence head-on.  You can read Toomey’s essay here, and McGinty’s here.  Our analysis is below.

First, two key policy areas where the candidates seem to agree.  We need to expand the background check system to cover more sales and close the loopholes that allow suspected terrorists to buy firearms, even though we don’t let them board airplanes.

Toomey says he will continue to work to: “Improve the federal background check system to include sales made online and at gun shows, while strengthening the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”  McGinty says: “I’ll fight on behalf of the 90 percent of Americans who agree, and we’ll require universal background checks for all gun purchases in the United States.”   This is a critical area, where there is broad public consensus. We must ensure that for every gun sale, there is a background check.  Yet in 2013, late last year after San Bernardino, and this summer after Orlando, various versions of background check expansion bills — including the Manchin-Toomey bill — failed to gain enough votes to make it to a full floor vote in the Senate.

Both McGinty and Toomey also support some version of No Fly, No Buy:  people on the no fly list should not be able to purchase firearms.  This summer, three versions of a bill to close this loophole failed to garner enough support to get a full floor vote in the Senate.

If McGinty and Toomey can agree on these basic principles, it should send a message to sitting members of Congress and those who want to serve that they must find a way to get these measures enacted.

There are some key differences.  McGinty writes that she’ll “support efforts to keep military-style weapons off our streets.”  Toomey does not directly address this issue, but does allude to his belief that “banning entire categories of fire-arms or widely used ammunition . . . would punish law-abiding citizens.”  McGinty also noted her support for ending the long-standing restrictions on CDC funding and research for gun violence prevention.  Senator Toomey did not address this issue, or the issue of whether those convicted of certain hate crimes should be prohibited from buying firearms.

In August, our advocacy arm CeaseFire Pennsylvania endorsed Katie McGinty in large part because of these specific policy differences and because we believed she would be a consistent, forceful leader on the issue.

We are pleased that the Inquirer identified gun violence as one of the key issues that the candidates needed to address in these last days of the election season.  And we are very pleased that both candidates are standing up for key commonsense measures and, indeed, competing for the label of who will be better on this issue.  The closing words of their essays are telling:

Senator Toomey pledges, “If I am fortunate enough to be reelected this November, I will continue to work with anyone who hopes to make progress on gun-safety laws while preserving the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding citizens.”  McGinty promises: “Pennsylvanians are calling for an end to this epidemic, and their voices deserve to be heard.  I will work every day to make their voices heard loud and clear.”

It is up to us, Pennsylvania citizens, to hold them to their pledges and promises, and ensure that whoever wins leads the fight for better gun laws, just as they promised they would.

Facing the truth about gun violence in PA