Democratic candidate for governor Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, left, shakes hands with Republican challenger Ed Gillespie after a debate at the University of Virginia-Wise in Wise, Va., Monday. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

When it comes to talking about gun control, Virginia’s main gubernatorial candidates have missed the mark.

Democrat Ralph Northam demanded that “it’s time to take action [on gun control] and stop talking.” Republican Ed Gillespie said there will “ample time for conversations and policy discussions and politics over the course of this campaign.”

Both candidates should take a page out of Mark Kelly’s book. Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), campaigned for Northam last week with his wife. He told voters, “Don’t let anyone tell you not to talk about politics when we talk about guns.”

Kelly’s right: We should be having a conversation about the politics of gun control. A real conversation.

To start, we should talk about how phrases such as “gun control” are usually little more than a security blanket for most Americans. Its appeal rests in its simplistic, albeit impractical, disposal of a difficult problem. Want to stop a madman from killing 59 people? Easy. Just take away his guns.

But an honest conversation about “gun control” would reveal that policy proposals most parroted by leftists are unsupported by research or facts. Instituting “universal background checks” is a prime example. In virtually every high-profile mass shooting case in the past 10 years, the shooter’s history contained no red flags that would have barred a purchase. In the few instances when a background check would have stopped the shooter from getting a weapon, the shooter obtained a weapon via alternative means, either by human error (as in the case of Dylan Roof), by theft (à la Adam Lanza) or by straw purchase (like the Columbine shooters). A 2016 study confirmed that in eight of every 10 incidents of gun violence, the perpetrator was in unlawful possession of the gun used.

Since we’re discussing the data, it’s worth talking about Australia and the American left’s post hoc fallacy that “gun control” has been effective Down Under. The gun homicide rate in Australia was falling well before the 1996 reform (which was actually a confiscation campaign that would be unconstitutional if implemented in the United States). Yet even assuming Australia’s 1996 law was responsible for the drop in gun violence, to replicate it in the United States, the government would have to confiscate more than 105 million guns — a stark contrast to the 1 million guns seized in Australia. Never mind that as the number of privately owned guns has risen in the United States, the gun homicide rate has fallen.

We should also talk about what types of firearms are doing the greatest harm. According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, in terms of numbers of deaths, rifles are far from the deadliest of weapons. In the United States, all rifles — including bolt-action hunting rifles — are responsible for about 3.3 percent of firearm homicides and 2.5 percent of homicides overall. “Knives or cutting instruments” have killed more than four times the number of people as rifles. Even “blunt objects” have a deadlier track record, killing 472 people in 2016. It’s worth noting these statistics include the Pulse nightclub shooting, which, until the tragedy in Las Vegas, was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

We also need to be honest about the purpose of the Second Amendment. More precisely, that it does not exist for “hunting” or “recreation” but as a sort of insurance policy against tyrannical government; the ultimate fail-safe, if you will, for the people to defend their natural rights. On that note, we should ask our left-leaning friends — who habitually decry the government’s past slaughter of Native Americans, protest state brutality against people of color and swear Donald Trump is instituting a Fourth Reich — why they would be willing to let Trump’s government diminish their only means of self-defense.

Finally, maybe we need to talk about how, in a country whose citizens are blessed to hold such tremendous power, some will inevitably abuse that power. It’s possible our elected leaders can’t stop people like Stephen Paddock from committing random acts of violence. Perhaps it’s our absolute faith in government’s ability to solve all our problems that needs recalibrating, not our embrace of personal liberty.

That’s a conversation I’d like to have.