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Apr 11, 2023, 7:26am EDT
politics

In Kentucky and Tennessee, two shootings close to home for politicians

REUTERS/Michael Clevenger
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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear didn’t talk about guns during his pair of press conferences on Monday after the mass shooting that killed five people at a Louisville bank.

Instead, he largely talked about grief — the city’s and his own. The attack doubled as a personal tragedy for Beshear, who explained that the gunman had murdered one of his closest friends. “I’m hurting,” he said. “Tommy Elliot helped me build my law career, helped me become governor, gave me advice on being a good dad.”

“Yes, I know, in the days to come we'll talk about issues,” he added later. “Today, I'll be focused on my friend and everybody else's friends and loved ones that are no longer with us.”

The city’s Democratic mayor, Craig Greenberg, also was a friend of Elliot, as was Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott. Greenberg had been elected last year after being grazed when a gunman targeted his campaign office. While mayors have limited ability to influence red state gun laws, he had campaigned on destroying confiscated illegal guns that the city was required under Kentucky law to resell. He told reporters that reducing his city’s high rates of gun violence would be his top goal going forward.

“We have to take action,” he said. “Today is a day for love and support to the victims… but this is life and death, so as mayor, this will continue to be our number one priority."

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In general, their comments were a stark contrast with how some Democrats in Tennessee responded after the mass shooting that killed six at a Nashville school late last month. There, two state lawmakers were expelled after joining a pro-gun control protest that temporarily shut down the legislature.

Instead, Beshear sounded more like Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a conservative, pro-gun Republican who, eerily enough, lost his own close family friend in the Nashville shooting. “There will come a time to discuss and debate policy,” he said in a video late last month. “But this is not a time for hate or rage. That will not resolve or heal.”

As the rare Democratic governor preparing for a reelection run in a deep-red, pro-gun state, Beshear has tended to tread carefully around firearms issues, opposing some recent efforts to loosen rules while keeping his rhetoric mild.

“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but there is not a place for guns in schools," he said in March, explaining his opposition to a bill that would have let concealed carry permit holders bring their weapons onto campuses. That same month, he allowed a bill turning his state into a “Second Amendment sanctuary” to become law by neither signing nor vetoing it. The legislation would bar Kentucky officials from enforcing federal gun laws. At the time, Beshear said it would likely be struck down as unconstitutional.

“I’d just like us to spend our time on things that we know are constitutional, and that can improve our lives, like economic development, expansion of health care,” he said.

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