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Top GOP candidates for Kentucky governor tiptoe around gun control following mass shooting in Louisville

Top left to right: Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Bottom left to right: Former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, and State Auditor Mike Harmon.
Warren Co. Republican Party Facebook page
Top left to right: Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Bottom left to right: Former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, and State Auditor Mike Harmon.

The top Republicans running for Kentucky governor are rejecting the need for more gun control, despite last week’s mass shooting a Louisville bank. The GOP candidates say the answer to reducing gun violence involves mental health and morality.

The most viable candidates for winning the Republican nomination for governor gathered in Bowling Green Friday night for the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner. They were quick to praise law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville four days earlier that killed five employees and critically wounded a police officer.

"If you’re in law enforcement here tonight, would you please stand up?," asked Attorney General Daniel Cameron. "Thank you for being willing, as those fine officers did on Monday, to run toward danger while others are running away.”

Cameron has consistently led polls in the GOP gubernatorial primary, which will be decided on May 16. What Cameron and the other GOP hopefuls didn’t do was vow to help keep law enforcement from having to respond to mass shootings in the first place.

“I’m not for gun control. I know some folks, particularly in Louisville right now, are responding to this moment. But we live in a fallen world and there are broken people, and we see sin, and things happen," Cameron told WKU Public Radio. "It’s a tragedy when it occurs, but the response, in my view, is not gun control.”

Cameron, who has earned an A+ rating from the NRA, said he wouldn’t support a red flag law in Kentucky, if elected governor. Such measures allow police to ask a court to temporarily confiscate weapons from someone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Polling suggests Cameron’s biggest rival for the GOP nomination is former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, who has consistently said she “won’t touch the Second Amendment.” Instead, she said the focus should be on bolstering mental health services.

"We have to make sure everyone has access to mental health and remove the stigma so that it’s okay to talk about it and ask for help," Craft said in comments to reporters.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles also emphasized more mental health resources like a program his office started called “Raising Hope” that focuses on mental health in rural Kentucky. Quarles said he also wouldn’t support a red flag law if elected governor.

“When we see someone struggling, we need to check in on them, but I’m also a defender of the due process rights that every are afforded under the Constitution," Quarles said.

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck is viewed as the more moderate of the top Republican contenders for governor. While he doesn’t support red flag laws, he disagrees with a state law that requires guns used in crimes to be put back into circulation instead of being destroyed. He said that means the assault rifle used in last week’s mass shooting in Louisville will be sent to an auction and be back on the streets.

“This does not need to be a prize for somebody. It doesn’t need to be a story piece. It’s insensitive," Keck said. "I realize there are some small police departments that need that revenue, but let’s find another way.”

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, a Democrat, has called that law "absurd" and wants state lawmakers to allow more local control on guns.

State Auditor Mike Harmon describes himself staunch Christian conservative who supports more mental health services. But he says gun violence is the result of a moral breakdown in society.

“We have a crisis of faith and family. The family unit is deteriorating. Sadly, there’s not as many people going to church and worshiping God," Harmon said Friday. "So many people now days have empty hearts, and if we don’t fill them up with something good, then things happens.”

The winner of the May 16 primary will likely face incumbent Democratic Governor Andy Beshear in November’s general election. Beshear has pressed the Republican General Assembly to pass a red flag law. Even the Republican Governor of Tennessee last week asked his GOP-dominant state legislature to pass more gun restrictions following the deadly shooting at a private school in Nashville.

Former Leitchfield Mayor Rick Embry was in the audience at Friday’s Lincoln Day Dinner, a fundraiser for the Warren County Republican Party. He’s a staunch conservative, but believes his party has to find compromise with Democrats on gun control.

“The gun issue is going to haunt the Republican party until we do some changes with it, the same as abortion has the Democratic party," Embry told WKU Public Radio. "What’s happening in our schools and banks is a shame. The blood is going be at the Republican’s feet until we change some minds.”

Instead, the Republican majority in the Kentucky General Assembly this year advanced more pro-gun policies, including one that declares the state a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”

The day after leaders in the Kentucky Republican Party gathered in Bowling Green, an unidentified suspect fired a gun into a crowd of hundreds in Louisville, the second act of gun violence in Kentucky's largest city in a week.

The shooting in Chickasaw Park left two people dead and four wounded Saturday night, police said.

Six more shootings also happened over the weekend in Louisville, collectively killing three people and injuring five others.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.