FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher owns guns. So does his Democratic challenger Steve Beshear. And so do each of their running mates.
In a state like Kentucky, where families commonly own guns, it's politically wise for candidates to say they have a shotgun or rifle around the house and to voice support for the right to bear arms, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"It's standard politics throughout the South and the border states," Sabato said. "I can't remember the last statewide candidate for major office in the South who has won election by supporting gun control."
That's in large part because of the clout of the 4.3 million-member National Rifle Association, which endorses pro-gun candidates and promotes them through political ads while disparaging those oppose to the organization's cause.
"The political graveyard is full of candidates who have not supported the Second Amendment," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
Fletcher, who has won endorsements from the NRA in previous elections, said he supports gun ownership for all law-abiding citizens.
"And I believe the Kentucky Constitution means what it says, that the 'right to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the State' is an 'inherent and inalienable right,"' Fletcher said in response to a questionnaire from The Associated Press. Beshear said Fletcher isn't the only one who feels so strongly.
"I believe in the right to keep and bear arms," he said. "I own a 12 gauge shotgun and my running mate, Daniel Mongiardo, owns several weapons, including rifles, pistols, and 12-gauge shotguns."
Both candidates gave fairly brief answers to the gun question on an AP questionnaire that covered a wide variety of topics. On a question that asked what the candidates like to do in their spare time, Beshear included hunting.
However, the Fletcher campaign contends Beshear's record is less than sparkling on the gun issue, pointing to a 1982 opinion he wrote while serving as Kentucky attorney general. In that opinion, Beshear held that the right to bear arms is subject to "reasonable regulation" by local governments.
The issue involved whether Louisville could constitutionally require licenses for gun dealers, a waiting period for purchasing guns, and mandatory reporting of gun purchases to authorities. Two years later, the General Assembly passed a law that barred local governments from passing gun control laws.
The Fletcher campaign made Beshear's attorney general opinion an
issue during a stump speech in the western Kentucky community of
Fancy Farm earlier this month by parading two men dressed in
camouflage and orange hunting vests through a boisterous crowd. The
men were armed with a giant slingshot. Fletcher, referring to the prop, said if Beshear had his way, hunters would be using slingshots instead of guns.
Beshear spokeswoman Vicki Glass said Fletcher is trying to wrongly paint the Democratic challenger as antigun. Glass said Beshear is a hunter and gun owner who strongly supports the rights of responsible gun owners.
"In 1982, when Steve Beshear wrote that opinion as attorney general, no state law existed regarding whether or not a municipality could pass its own gun ordinance," Glass said. "Since that time, a state law was enacted which makes this issue moot. Evidently Ernie Fletcher is unaware of the legal and legislative history of the state."
University of Louisville political science professor Phil Laemmle said he doesn't think voters will hold Beshear accountable for an attorney general opinion written more than 20 years ago, especially considering that the opinion was based on the state law at the time.
"I don't see it was having enough legs to make it a successful campaign issue," Laemmle said.
Arulanandam said the NRA plans to make a political endorsement
in the governor's race later in the year, and that Fletcher will likely be the beneficiary because he has been supportive of several NRA initiatives in the past.
Last year, Fletcher signed a so-called "no retreat law" that protects people from prosecution for shooting intruders to protect themselves, their families and their property. The NRA pushed for that law.
"If an incumbent has been supportive of the Second Amendment and they have demonstrated steadfast support for the National Rifle Association," Arulanandam said, "then they will receive the endorsement."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)