Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the title of former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.
When state Rep. Chris Harris decided last week to back some gun regulations following the school shootings in Benton, Kentucky, and Parkland, Florida, he expected some feedback.
In the days since I wrote about the longtime NRA supporter who signed onto a bill that would seek to keep guns used in violent crimes from going back on the streets, Harris has been inundated.
Some of the responses good. Some of them bad.
“Over 1,000 emails, I quit trying to keep up with it on social media because it was just too much,” he wrote to me in a text message.
About 90 percent of the responses have been positive and about 10 percent of them negative, Harris said.
“Lots of positives from kids and moms. Even a couple moms from Parkland, Florida,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the 10 (percent) are all from my district,” he said.
Harris said he also took one call from former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat who won election in a pro-gun state despite the fact that he favors expanded background checks for gun buyers, and another from a Roman Catholic priest.
“It’s been overwhelming, to say the least,” he said.
But he said support from his own community has been muted. “It’s such a controversial issue here, people are likely hesitant to make any public statements either way,” he said.
And that’s what makes it so hard for people like Harris from rural districts like his to support legislation to restrict guns in any way, no matter how sane and how needed the laws.
He represents 28 precincts in Pike County and all of Martin County.
Gov. Matt Bevin has continually blamed the “culture” for the gun violence in the United States and that’s probably the best position to take if you want to win votes in rural Kentucky.
Harris realized recently that the gun culture is to blame as well. He said he’ll continue to support Second Amendment rights but that he believes some restrictions are appropriate.
That’s not an outlandish position.
Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative icon, once wrote in a gun control case, that “commentators and courts routinely explained that the right (to bear arms) was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
A week before he co-sponsored those bills, Harris gave a floor speech in which he said he also favors the banning of assault weapons and expanded background checks for gun buyers.
You can count on gun rights supporters coming after him in this year’s election.
Harris has an opponent in November — the same candidate he beat by a narrow margin in 2016.
If he can win again, it might persuade more rural legislators to back restrictions on guns.
And if he can’t, will he regret his decision?
“Hell, no. I feel great about it. If this beats me I’ll spend more time at home with my family, make twice as much money and know I tried to help fix it.”
Joseph Gerth’s opinion column runs on most Sundays and at various times throughout the week. He can be reached at 502-582-4702 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/josephg.