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Kentucky leaders respond to Texas school shooting with thoughts and prayers, little talk of gun reform

A woman walks past the U.S. Senate and Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Congress is moving to avert one crisis while putting off another with the Senate poised to approve legislation that would fund the federal government into early December. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A woman walks past the U.S. Senate and Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Congress is moving to avert one crisis while putting off another with the Senate poised to approve legislation that would fund the federal government into early December. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Kentucky Congressional leaders responded to the Uvalde, Texas school shooting on Wednesday with condolences, thoughts and prayers. But they offered little to no promise on gun control legislation and reform.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was outraged by the shooting. 

“It is literally sickening to consider the innocent young lives that were stolen by this pointless, senseless brutality,” McConnell said.

He did not, however, hint towards gun laws or possible discussion on calling for gun safety measures.

According to federal campaign finance data by OpenSecrets, McConnell has received $72,868 in campaign support from the National Rifle Association since 2016 and over $1.2 million from the organization over the course of his career. He has consistently received an “A” rating from the gun rights group.

Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Washington, Congressman John Yarmuth, said in an interview that mass shootings will continue to happen unless voters rise up and say they’ve had enough.

“The fact is, that we have more shootings in this country and more mass shootings in this country because we have more guns in this country,” Yarmuth said.

Yarmuth has sponsored legislation to try and limit access to large-capacity magazines, expand background checks and ‘red flag’ laws that limit the sale of guns to people who are considered a danger to themselves and others. The measures haven’t made it far in Congress, which has been divided on the issue for much of Yarmuth’s tenure.

In a segment on Newsmax, Kentucky's 1st District Rep. James Comer said the answer to preventing school shootings lies in fortifying schools with police and more guards.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families. We just need to focus on school security. That’s what we talk about every time there’s a senseless tragedy like this,” Comer said.

Marshall County High School, located in Comer’s district, was the site of a school shooting that killed two and injured 18 more in 2018.

4th District Congressman Thomas Massie called for expanding where people can carry guns after the incident, tweeting, “We should end so-called gun-free zones and allow sane adults to protect children from insane individuals.”

Massie is chair of the House’s Second Amendment Caucus and recently introduced a bill to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. He also proposed a measure to allow local governments to set their own firearms policies and posed for a gun-filled Christmas card photo shortly after a school shooting last December.

GOP Sen. Rand Paul offered condolences on Twitter.

“Kelley and I are horrified by this senseless massacre. Our prayers go out to the victims and their families,” he wrote.

Paul’s opponent in this year’s U.S. Senate race, former Democratic state Rep. Charles Booker, said that the government needs to better regulate guns.

“When I was a Director at Fish and Wildlife, we often passed regulations on hunting. It wasn't seen as an attack on the 2nd Amendment, but a necessary way to protect animal populations,” Booker wrote on Twitter.

“There's no f***ing reason the Senate can’t pass gun safety legislation to protect our children.”

2nd District Rep. Brett Guthrie tweetedthat he was heartbroken by the incident.

“I pray for those who lost a child, family member, fellow student, and coworker and for the students and teachers who survived this tragedy,” Guthrie wrote.

6th District Congressman Andy Barr issued a statement calling the shooting cowardly and evil and advised against “politicizing” the tragedy.

“Instead, we must unite in our grief and outrage, support a thorough investigation, establish the facts and seek justice,” Barr said.

5th District Congressman Hal Rogers did not respond when reached out for comment and has not issued a statement. 

Meanwhile in Kentucky’s largest school district, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio expressed frustration that policy solutions for preventing mass shootings are falling on the backs of educators.

“School districts are being asked to do the job that society and community should be doing,” Pollio told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

“I think access to guns is clearly problematic for us right now in schools and in society,” he said.

Pollio said he believes there’s a role for law enforcement in preventing attacks like the one in Uvalde. 

JCPS is in the process of expanding its police force, after facing pressure from some parents and Republican state lawmakers. The district aims to have 30 officers in place by the fall.

Jess Clark contributed to this report.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story cited early inaccurate reports that officers on site attempted to stop the shooter from entering the school. Texas law enforcement now say the shooter walked in "unobstructed,"and was not confronted by a school district police officer.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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