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McConnell Says Senate Will Debate Bills Addressing Gun Violence


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now saying there will be a congressional debate in September over a range of bills addressing gun violence. But Kentucky Public Radio's Ryland Barton reports that, in McConnell's home state, there is not widespread support for more extensive gun restrictions.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: McConnell says he will not call the Senate back from its August recess early, during an interview with WHAS radio in Louisville. McConnell said lawmakers needed time to discuss a range of proposals, from a red flag law to an expansion of background checks to an assault weapons ban.


MITCH MCCONNELL: It's certainly one of the front-and-center issues. I think with - probably background checks and red flags would probably lead the discussion. But a lot of other things will come up as well.

BARTON: But pressure is still mounting for the Senate majority leader to act quickly on the issue. Gun control advocacy group Giffords is spending $750,000 on TV ads in Kentucky and Colorado, home of vulnerable Republican senator Cory Gardner.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Since you're in charge of the Senate, can't you do something to keep these shootings from happening all the time?

BARTON: About 200 demonstrators held a vigil outside McConnell's office in Louisville's federal building on Tuesday.


HOLLAN HOLM: And I remember thoughts and prayers being offered up on Heath High School's behalf 22 years ago by politicians. Thoughts and prayers were not enough to stop the violence then.

BARTON: That's Hollan Holm, a survivor of the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah, Ky.


HOLM: Senator, I was shot in a prayer group. What is your plan B?


BARTON: Holm and the protesters were calling on the Senate Republican leader to hold a vote on a House-passed bill expanding background checks for gun purchases.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Vote him out. Vote him out. Vote him out.

BARTON: McConnell lives in urban, liberal-leaning Louisville, but represents a very conservative state, and that creates a lot of tension in his hometown. Following the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, about two dozen protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside of McConnell's house late at night.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Your constituents are out here. We have grievances.

BARTON: McConnell is up for reelection in 2020 and has staunchly opposed any gun control legislation. Scott Lasley is a political science professor at Western Kentucky University and chair of the Warren County Republican Party. He says McConnell isn't going to feel pressure from Kentucky voters to support gun restrictions, but he might from his fellow Republican senators who face tough reelections.

SCOTT LASLEY: My guess is that the pressure there is probably going to be more important than the pressure from Kentucky.

BARTON: And since President Trump is now pushing for expanded background checks and measures that would bar people deemed to be dangerous from owning guns, that might provide pro-gun rights Republicans with some cover.

LASLEY: Trump is so popular in Kentucky that if he's calling for action - that's why I worked with President Trump, to pursue this bipartisan legislation.

BARTON: Kentucky is a fiercely pro-gun state, even in the wake of a shooting at Marshall County High School last year that took the lives of two 15-year-olds. This year the state Legislature passed a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The one factor that could shift McConnell's thinking is someone who's much more popular than him in Kentucky - President Trump, if he stays focused on guns.

For NPR News, I'm Ryland Barton in Louisville, Ky.

(SOUNDBITE OF GACHA BAKRADZE'S "RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.