The National Rifle Association wields a big mailing list and “hunter orange” postcards to control legislators. A bad word from the NRA showing up in voters’ mailboxes is the kiss of political death in rural and some suburban districts.
It’s worth paying attention then when a politician from rural Kentucky is willing to risk the NRA’s ire.
Rep. Chris Harris, a Democrat from Pike County, did just that last week. In a speech on the House floor, Harris said he remains a “strong advocate for the Second Amendment” while also calling for “common sense” lifesavers, specifically a ban on the sale of assault rifles and bump stocks, closing the gun-show loophole for background checks before gun purchases, and holding adults responsible for securing firearms out of the reach of children.
Harris said he was going public with his “change of heart” despite advice from friends back home who warned that an NRA attack could cost him his seat.
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We would bet, though, that most Kentuckians, including most gun owners, are with Harris, on the side of common sense, just like most Americans.
Two-thirds of U.S. voters say they support stricter gun laws, including half of gun owners, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of 1,249 voters who were questioned Feb. 16-19.
The poll found 67 percent of voters support a ban on assault weapons and a whopping 97 percent want universal background checks. Eighty-three percent support a mandatory waiting period for gun purchases. The poll found that support for gun restrictions has increased by 19 points over the last two years.
Another rural Democrat, Rep. Will Coursey, isn’t running for re-election so has less to lose than Harris. But his words on the House floor last week carried special weight because he represents Marshall County, scene of a Jan 23 school shooting. A 15-year-old boy is charged with killing two teenagers and wounding 14 other people.
Coursey said he aggressively sought A ratings from the NRA because he wanted his constituents to “get the little orange card” saying “I’m a sportsman.” But, he said, there’s nothing sporting about high capacity magazines, clips and other “gadgets” designed not to fell a deer or pheasant but to kill people.
Quoting from the Bible’s Book of James, Harris said faith without works is hollow and that he is tired of “prayers without action” after mass shootings. “We should ban the sale of assault rifles,” Harris said. “These are tools of war, made for one purpose and one purpose only, to kill human beings.”
Harris said no restrictions would stop all shootings or maybe even most. But, noting the start of Lent, when many Christians practice self-denial, Harris said, “I’m giving up my NRA rating, most likely on a permanent basis. But if it means one less life is taken senselessly in this country or commonwealth, it will be worth it.”
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump ordered a ban on gun modifications like bump stocks. Even the NRA, which spent more than $30 million to elect Trump, backed such a ban after the Las Vegas sniper used a bump stock to up his body count.
But, overall, the NRA remains an enemy of common sense, spreading hysterical distortions and fantasies of gun confiscations and lost liberties. When the little orange card shows up, voters should use their common sense and read with skepticism.