/Mitch McConnell fought gun bills after Louisville mass shooting

Mitch McConnell fought gun bills after Louisville mass shooting

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Days after a disgruntled employee with a mental illness killed eight people and shot 12 others at Louisville’s Standard Gravure printing press in 1989, first-term U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said he was “deeply disturbed” at the violence in his hometown and believed “we must take action to stop such vicious crimes.”

But along with that call for action, McConnell added this caveat: “We need to be careful about legislating in the middle of a crisis.”

Now 30 years and many mass shootings later, the legacy of the U.S. Senate majority leader on this issue is one of action: Defeating legislation that attempts to expand federal background checks and to ban certain types of firearms, and doing so unapologetically in the name of protecting the Second Amendment.

A week after the Standard Gravure shooting, Harvey Sloane — then Jefferson County’s Democratic judge-executive and a recently announced challenger against McConnell in the 1990 Senate race — announced his support for a ban on assault weapons like the AK-47 used by the gunman.

While doing so, Sloane took a swipe at McConnell for his silence on whether he supported such a ban. McConnell’s press secretary had been quoted in The Courier Journal the day after the massacre as saying the senator had lost his voice that day.

The Courier Journal special report: 30 years after Kentucky’s deadliest mass shooting, little has been done to keep us safe

“I now challenge him to find his voice and tell the people of Kentucky where he stands,” said Sloane, adding that McConnell’s “failure to speak out seems to indicate a lack of concern for the effects of this terrible tragedy.”

McConnell countered that Sloane was “shameful” for trying to “make political hay out of a terrible tragedy.”

Eight months later, as the Senate was voting on a bill to ban the manufacture and sale of nine types of semiautomatic weapons for three years, McConnell’s stance on the issue wasn’t known until he cast his dissenting vote.

In a written statement, McConnell said he voted against the ban because it would be “an ineffective response to the serious problem of crime and drugs in our society,” adding that “the real problem is keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and keeping criminals locked up in prison.”

A week before the election that fall, polls showed a tight Senate race between McConnell and Sloane. In a Courier Journal op-ed last year, Sloane wrote that this is when McConnell’s campaign released a barrage of ads hitting the Louisville Democrat with anti-gun control messages, leading people to believe he would “take away their hunting guns.”

McConnell won the race by 5 percentage points and never looked back, winning reelection four more times. 

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The senator also never wavered on his stance against gun control, becoming a consistent opponent of legislative efforts over the next three decades.

McConnell voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that passed in 1993, which created a mandatory federal background check for gun purchases by licensed dealers and a five-day waiting period for such purchases, until such checks became instant.

The following year McConnell also voted against a 10-year ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and certain high-capacity magazines. That bill passed, only to expire in 2004, when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress.

Republicans had lost their Senate majority by late 2012, when 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut were massacred by a man with a Bushmaster rifle and high-capacity magazines.

After the tragedy, Democrats made a renewed effort to pass a bill that expanded federal background checks to all gun purchases, including private person-to-person sales like those at gun shows.

In March 2013, the Manchin-Toomey amendment to close this loophole in background checks received 54 votes in the Senate, shy of the 60 votes needed to avert a filibuster. Additional amendments to restore bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines also went down to defeat.

From the archives: Tragedy unfolds with first frantic calls to police in 1989 Standard Gravure shooting

McConnell’s campaign, which months earlier sent an email to supporters warning that Obama and Democratic “gun-grabbers” had them surrounded, posted a meme an hour after the Manchin-Toomey bill failed, gloating that McConnell had denied then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even the tiniest piece of gun control legislation. 

Now the Senate majority leader, McConnell resisted calls by Democrats to immediately bring the Senate back from its August recess to vote on universal background checks.

“We’d just have people scoring political points and nothing would happen,” McConnell said.

Now that the Senate is back, McConnell has said he will not allow a floor vote on any gun legislation until President Donald Trump indicates what he will support.

“I want to make a law, not just see this kind of political sparring going on endlessly which never produces a result,” he said in a radio interview in early August after the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings

Eleven days after the Standard Gravure massacre, The Courier Journal posted the total contributions members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation received in their previous campaign from the National Rifle Association, listing McConnell’s as $4,950.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ database, McConnell has now received $1.3 million in contributions from the NRA over the course of his career, along with the gun rights organization’s “Defender of Freedom” award in 2014.

Meet Mike Campbell: Standard Gravure mass shooting survivor still speaking out against ‘gun idiocy’

Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com or 502-582-4059 and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courierjournal.com/subscribe.

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