What happened to the gun debate?

“It should be talked about. The number of gun deaths is not decreasing, and Pennsylvania is among states where gun deaths outnumber auto-crash deaths," says Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire Pennsylvania.

BACK IN JUNE, during a brief U.S. House sit-in by Democratic lawmakers seeking to force a gun debate, there was this Washington Post headline: "House sit-in guarantees gun control will be a top issue in the fall election."

What happened?

"That's a great question," says Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire Pennsylvania. "If this were a normal election, we'd be talking about it."

Ah, but this election's far from normal.

Instead of talking about issues impacting voters' lives, we're talking about unwise emails and unwanted groping.

Spikes in mass shootings, police shootings and police officers shot? Polling showing "crime and violence" among American's greatest fears?

Yeah, well, anyway.

In each of the first two presidential debates, guns were mentioned once: each time generally, each time briefly.

In the first debate, on a law and order question, Hillary Clinton said, "We have to tackle the plague of gun violence, which is a big contributor to a lot of problems that we're seeing today."

Donald Trump said, "We have to stop the violence. We have to bring back law and order."

In the second debate, on appointing Supreme Court justices, Trump said, the Second Amendment is "totally under siege by people like Hillary Clinton."

Clinton said, "I respect the Second Amendment. But I believe there should be comprehensive background checks" and no more gun show or online loopholes.

And that was it - despite evidence voters want a discussion.

The Open Debate Coalition, a bi-partisan effort to get voter questions into debates, drew 3.6 million responses. The top two were about guns.

More than 75,600 folks wanted this question: "Would you support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales?" More than 65,500 wanted this one: "How will you ensure the Second Amendment is protected?"

Neither was asked.

The coalition's Kaitlin Sweeney says TV networks considered top questions submitted by the group but used only one (about Wikileaks and Clinton's corporate speeches) that was requested by just 13 voters.

Brendon Kelly, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says, "We were disappointed in moderators in both debates."

Both groups are urging Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, moderator for Wednesday night's final debate, to ask these questions.

I sought NRA comment about debate questions, was promised a response but never got one.

Yes, the gun issue was upfront briefly in Pennsylvania's Senate race between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and Democrat Katie McGinty, but since Toomey supported background checks, it gave way to focus on Toomey refusing to fully disavow Trump.

"It should be talked about," says CeaseFire's Goodman. "The number of gun deaths is not decreasing, and Pennsylvania is among states where gun deaths outnumber auto-crash deaths."

(The D.C.-based Violence Policy Center says there were 1,390 gun deaths in the state in 2014 and 1,287 motor vehicle deaths. It lists Pennsylvania among 21 states with more gun than crash deaths.)

I get that Trump drives all discussion and most of it surrounds what he's said, done or alleged to have done.

I know other issues are being ignored: climate change, money in politics, etc.

But America's first in firearms per capita with the highest homicide-by-gun rate among developed nations. And maybe you recall reporting by the Inquirer earlier this year: More than 14,500 people were shot in Philly from 2006 through 2015.

A national Quinnipiac poll shows majority support, 54-42, for stricter gun laws. A statewide Franklin & Marshall poll shows majority support, 55-42, for new laws regulating guns.

You can debate the effectiveness of gun laws; argue regulation won't stem violence. You can make a case that anything that might save lives is worth trying.

Unless, apparently, you're seeking high office in 2016.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer