Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin sparked a strong reaction Monday on Twitter as he waded into the gun-control debate only hours after a gunman shot and killed at least 58 people and injured more than 500 others in Las Vegas.
The Republican first tweeted “United we stand, divided we fall” and the hashtag “PrayersForVegas” along with a link to a news story about the shooting. Three hours later, he took issue with gun-control advocates.
“To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs ... You can’t regulate evil,” Bevin said.
The shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in modern American history, has stirred a strong response from gun control advocates. Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat who was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011, held a news conference to call once again for gun control. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made a statement on Twitter, calling on Congress to take action.
Bevin’s comment provoked 8,000 comments within five hours, many of which were highly critical of him. It had a “Twitter Ratio” — the ratio of comments to likes and retweets — of more than 2:1, typically a sign of a controversial tweet.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, a strong advocate for gun control since a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., said he was waiting for Bevin to “rescind Kentucky’s laws banning assault, murder and arson.”
“One of government’s core functions is to regulate evil,” Murphy said.
Jessica Morgan, who operates the Los Angeles-based fashion blog “Go Fug Yourself,” called Bevin a “craven heartless worm” and said “people CAN vote your ass out of office for using this tragedy to shrug off grieving Americans desperate for solutions to prevent MASS MURDER.”
Morgan later said she was blocked by Bevin’s Twitter account for the tweet.
New Yorker writer John Cassidy also chimed in, pointing to regulations in Australia and England that have reduced the number of gun deaths.
Positive responses were hard to find among the many comments, although some users argued back and forth about whether the government should set limits on guns. When one person said citizens shouldn’t have guns, another responded, “Here’s a prime example of why that is wrong” and attached a picture of the U.S. Constitution.
Later in the day, Bevin said he posted the tweet because gun control advocates immediately pounced on his initial call for unity.
“I appreciate the differences of opinion and I appreciate that this will, and appropriately, create more dialogue and debate,” Bevin told the Daily Signal, a conservative news outlet. “But for people to be so political and so opportunistic so immediately, it’s why I sent the comment that I did.”
Bevin’s opposition to gun control is nothing new. A staunch supporter of gun rights, Bevin was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in his 2015 campaign for governor, and he spoke at an NRA rally in Louisville in 2016.
In that speech, Bevin said Europe suffers from government overreach.
“Europe is crumbling in some respects,” Bevin said. “The liberties, the freedom, the degree of regulation, the suffocation of government, the overreach, not only on their right to bear arms but on so many individual liberties and freedoms, it’s suffocating that continent. The world is being suffocated; we are being suffocated even in this nation. This is why these elections matter.”
In response to a spate of shootings in Louisville earlier this year, he urged Kentuckians to conduct prayer walks in high-crime neighborhoods.
Bevin was in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a meeting with President Donald Trump about “cutting red tape.”
Later in the day, he ordered flags to half-staff to honor the shooting victims and released a statement that said the shooting “was the handiwork of unadulterated evil in its vilest, most despicable form.”
In the interview with the Daily Signal, Bevin stood by his tweet.
“For an evil person who intends to perpetrate evil on others there is nothing that can be done to stop that,” Bevin said. There isn’t, sadly. And we’ve seen that time and time again.”