How guns have become a huge issue in the PA Senate race

(Sony Pictures Entertainment via AP)

Tonight the Republicans vying to replace retiring U.S. Senator Pat Toomey will square off on a debate stage, and I suspect that Dr. Mehmet Oz’s past support for new gun control laws will be a major line of attack for several of the candidates on the debate stage. Oz has been running neck and neck with former hedge fund manager David McCormick, but the first poll conducted in the state after Donald Trump’s endorsement of the celebrity doctor showed him with a three point lead over McCormick, with political commentator Kathy Barnette and former U.S. ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands the only other candidates polling in double digits.

McCormick has been increasingly vocal about hitting Oz on the gun issue, recently running an online ad that accuses the doctor of “calling for a New Zealand-style gun ban” and arguing that “Americans should have less access to guns”; claims that the website Politifact calls “mostly true“.

In 2019, Oz indicated support for a gun ban like one in New Zealand. That year, New Zealand banned most semiautomatic weapons following a terror attack on two mosques that left 51 people dead.

Oz was the lead author of a question-and-answer syndicated newspaper column that he wrote with [Dr. Michael] Roizen. In a 2019 column that called gun deaths in America a public health crisis, the doctors suggested the United States reinstitute a ban on assault rifles.

The column ended by saying the New Zealand parliament passed legislation banning most semi-automatic and military-style weapons with a hope “to get as many of these assault weapons off their streets ASAP. Can we?”

Oz once said Americans should have less access to guns — but he did not state support for any specific gun control measure.

In a 2013 column about America’s overall health ranking, Oz and his colleague cited a number of health problems and noted the number of gun-related homicides in the U.S. They offered dietary tips and other health suggestions.

“And let’s add in more access to health care; less access to guns that aren’t designed for hunting; more access to good nutrition” and other steps, they wrote. They did not elaborate on how to achieve “less access” to guns.

McCormick provided Politifact with links to other columns by Oz and Roizen promoting the use of “red flag” gun seizure laws, universal background checks, waiting periods, and other unspecified “responsible gun laws”, and Oz’s history of promoting restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms should be brought up this evening. Will Oz try to explain away those columns by claiming he didn’t actually write them? Let him, but he should also explain why he allowed them to be published under his name if they expressed viewpoints he didn’t agree with, and why he never objected until the columns came to light after he declared himself a candidate for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat.

Guns have also emerged as a big issue in the Democratic primary. Well, to be specific one gun has become an issue; the shotgun wielded by then-Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman on a January day back in 2013.

John Fetterman heard what sounded like gunfire and saw a man running away. So he reacted by getting his kid inside to safety before he called 911.

What Fetterman did next, however, still haunts him nine years later as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Pennsylvania: He chased the man down with a shotgun and detained him until police arrived.

Turns out, the man was jogging and wearing running clothes. According to a police report, the man was unarmed and said the sound of gunfire was actually fireworks, although two witnesses thought they heard shots.

The man Fetterman pulled a gun on is Black. Fetterman — the mayor of the Pittsburgh-area borough of Braddock at the time and now the state’s lieutenant governor — is white. Fetterman, 52, said he couldn’t tell the jogger’s race initially because of how he was bundled up in the winter cold.

The incident was brought up during last week’s Democratic debate, and honestly, Fetterman looked and sounded nervous and defensive as he tried to explain (and refused to apologize for) his actions at the time. Watch for yourself in the video below (skip to 15:06 if the video doesn’t start there).

Ironically, after the debate was over Fetterman’s team tried to spin his having his ass handed to him by Malcolm Kenyatta by complaining that the state representative and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (the other candidate on the debate stage) came off as politicians when voters are looking for authenticity. Why’s that ironic? Because Fetterman’s chief defense of his actions was that he was re-elected as Braddock’s mayor after allegedly pointing the shotgun at the unarmed jogger, so the voters clearly must have decided he didn’t do anything wrong.

Pointing to election results while trying to portray yourself as a non-politician is a bizarre strategy, but then, it’s clear that Fetterman’s team has yet to come up with a workable strategy to address the controversy, which now threatens his status as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary.

“I attacked the gun violence problem in Braddock, and we succeeded,” Fetterman said Thursday on stage, emphasizing that there were no gun deaths in the crime-racked borough for more than five of his 13 years as mayor.

Fetterman went on to explain that he made the “split-second decision” to “intercept” the man “until our first responders arrived as Braddock’s chief law enforcement officer and as the mayor.”

Fetterman’s suggestion that he was acting under color of law are a new talking point that stands in contrast to his initial comments about the 2013 incident.

“He’s not shooting straight on this, no pun intended. Just fess up. Apologize,” said Michael Nutter, Philadelphia’s last Black mayor, who served until 2016.

“All this other stuff — that he was the chief law enforcement officer or that he didn’t know the guy was Black — just doesn’t really sound like he wants to tell the truth,” added Nutter, who is neutral in the Senate primary. “It’s not helping him. Figuratively speaking, he’s shooting himself in the foot, and he doesn’t have to.”

On the other hand, at least Fetterman only has to explain one incident to Democratic primary voters. Dr. Oz has years worth of pro-gun control columns to answer for, and so far his answers are even less believable than Fetterman’s new talking points.

Jun 25, 2022 12:30 PM ET