GOP gubernatorial candidates take aim at one another over gun rights

04/15/2015 06:11 PM

UPDATED: As time winds down, the gloves are coming off in the GOP gubernatorial primary as the candidates begin to seek space between each other on core issues — like guns.

With just over four weeks to go before primary Election Day in Kentucky, the GOP candidates for governor have been competing over the television and radio airwaves to outflank each other on the right — railing against Democratic boogeyman President Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

One area few of the GOP candidates have focused on so far in the campaign is guns and the Second Amendment. All the candidates are members of the National Rifle Association, but there seems to be a sliver of space on the issue between candidates.

In the four-way primary three candidates in the race have a voting history to back their claims — James Comer, the current agriculture commissioner, was a state representative from 2001 to 2011; Hal Heiner, a Louisville businessman, served on the Louisville Metro Council from 2002 to 2010 before nearly winning the mayoral race; and Will T. Scott last served on the state Supreme Court from 2006 to 2014.

Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin is the only candidate without a voting history, but his business records –- the source of multiple television attack ads in 2013 and 2014 — were carefully scrutinized by McConnell and super PACs supporting McConnell.

While serving on the Louisville Metro Council in 2004, Heiner was part of a vote on the issue of concealed carry. Heiner and 24 other members of the council voted to re-approve an ordinance that prohibits carrying concealed weapons into metro government buildings — a position the NRA has opposed in states in recent years.

Heiner’s campaign says that vote was one the Republican was not alone in, and as governor he would support lawful carry in the halls of state government.

“As a long-time gun-owner, Hal Heiner is a passionate supporter of the 2nd Amendment and is 100% opposed to efforts by President Obama and the federal government to restrict our 2nd Amendment rights,” Heiner campaign spokesman Doug Alexander said in a statement.

“The Metro Council vote was a unanimous vote that included 10 other Republicans who voted for re-enacting the law that kept concealed carry weapons out of City Hall. As Governor, Hal Heiner would support lawful concealed carry in the Capitol Building.”

Carrying a firearm in the state Capitol has been called into question in recent years, most recently the issue was addressed in 2014 when state Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, accidentally discharged her gun in her Capitol Annex office.

Guns are allowed in the state Capitol and in the connected Annex, but guns are not allowed inside the state Supreme Court room. Security guards are posted in the Capitol and Annex and there are metal detectors in place, but anyone legally carrying a weapon is allowed to do so.

In a statement sent in response to a question from Pure Politics, the campaign for Bevin said he is a lifetime member of the NRA and a member of Gun Owners of America.

“Matt believes the 2nd amendment means exactly what it says, and there is no reason concealed carry license holders should have to check their constitutional rights at the door,” Bevin campaign manager Ben Hartman said in a statement.

The campaign called into question Heiner’s vote while on the Louisville Metro Council saying, “Matt believes Hal Heiner was wrong when he voted to restrict the rights of gun owners.”

“Sadly, however this isn’t the only issue on which Hal as evolved on as a candidate for Governor. He was a supporter of tolls, now he claims he isn’t,” Hartman said. “And he pledged to run a clean campaign, yet he won’t publicly condemn his supporters when they run attack ads against Matt that several news outlets have called false. If Hal behaves this way as a candidate, he should not be elected Governor.”

In February, Bevin spoke at a sparsely attended Second Amendment rally in Knob Creek where he said Kentucky should join several other states allowing individuals to ”Constitutional carry” — meaning there would be no permitting process in the state.

While on the stump for U.S. Senate in 2013, Bevin was on-the-record as saying he favors returning gun rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences — a position also held by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

The campaign for Bevin said he is a hunter, but being a father to nine kids doesn’t offer much time to hunt — though he has taken his daughter Grace. The NRA endorsed U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell over Bevin in the race.

The campaign for Comer also attacked Heiner for his vote while on the metro council, saying it was not surprising given his donations to former Mayor Jerry Abramson and others.

“It is no surprise that Heiner has a history of turning his back on the Second Amendment when he was a top donor to two of the most anti-gun politicians in Kentucky history, Jerry Abramson and David Armstrong,” said Edwin King, Comer’s campaign manager, in a statement sent to Pure Politics.

Records from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance show that Heiner donated $1,000 to Abramson’s Louisville mayoral campaign in 2001 and $1,000 to David Armstrong’s mayoral race in 1998. The move to donate to sitting or soon-to-be sitting lawmakers, governors and mayors is par for the course for business professionals (see: Jim Booth of Inez).

Bevin has also donated to a Democratic Louisville Mayoral candidate. In 2009, Bevin made two separate donations to Greg Fischer for a total of $500, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Comer has not donated to a Democratic candidate in a mayoral race, but in 2012 he did cut a $100 check to a sitting Democratic lawmaker — former Rep. Richard Henderson of Mt. Sterling, according to KREF.

Comer has also positioned himself as a pro-gun conservative in the election and has earned endorsements from the NRA in previous campaigns.

“Commissioner Comer has a consistent ‘A’ rating by the NRA and received the NRA’s endorsement time and time again as State Representative and as Commissioner of Agriculture. He is a hunter and a lifelong gun owner and advocate,” King said.

In 2007, Comer — along with nearly all of the House and Senate — voted in favor of a bill which would allow non-citizens the ability to purchase guns in Kentucky, as long as the sale is legal under federal law.

The NRA told Pure Politics the GOP gubernatorial candidates are “solidly pro-Second Amendment” and they don’t plan on getting involved in the primary. The NRA is planning on issuing their candidate scorecards in the coming days.

The campaign for Scott said both he and his running mate Rodney Coffey are both concealed-carry permit holders.

“Our concealed-carry law works well and should extend up to the point a private property owner objects,” Scott said. “I support reducing the federal government’s role in firearm regulation.”


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