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Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Is the National Rifle Association losing its grip in gun country?

Hundreds of Kentuckians joined March For Our Lives protests in Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Calvert City. Louisville and Lexington lean toward the liberal side, but the latter two towns are in Trump territory.

At the same time, an apparently growing number of Democrats running for the state legislature are bucking the gun lobby.

Some are tossing NRA candidate surveys in the trash. Others are responding with rebukes. A pair of House members lit into the NRA in headline-grabbing floor speeches.

Jeff Taylor is loving it. "I stood in opposition to the NRA before it was cool," smiled Taylor, who said that crossing the gun lobby probably cost him his House seat in 2016. He's running to get it back.

An apparently growing number of Democrats running for the state legislature are bucking the gun lobby. Some are tossing NRA candidate surveys in the trash. Others are responding with rebukes. A pair of House members lit into the NRA in headline-grabbing floor speeches.

Taylor, who represented a rural, conservative western Kentucky district, lit into the NRA during a candidate debate.

He doesn't rue his words. Nor is he taking them back. "I held true to what I felt in my heart as a Christian, and I believe in protecting the lives of our kids."

Taylor calls the March For Our Lives protests a "vindication that I did not expect until my ripe old age or death."

The Kentuckian admits he got emotional watching on TV thousands of people in Washington and elsewhere denouncing gun violence and demanding stronger gun control laws. 

The Calvert City rally site is 57 miles west of Hopkinsville and nine miles from Marshall County High School. where a student opened fire with a handgun in January. He is charged with murdering two teens and wounding 14 more.

Two years ago, Taylor, 58, jabbed the NRA at a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate with Walker Thomas, his pro-Trump, tea party-tilting Republican opponent. Thomas is also from Hopkinsville.

Taylor was asked about guns. The Thomas campaign turned his reply against him in a radio ad and a Facebook post.

“I took a huge risk, and stood up long before my friends Chris Harris and Will Coursey did,” he said. “They are getting the press now. However, I, as a lone freshman, spoke up and spoke out."

He meant Reps. Harris and Coursey, the NRA-challenging speech makers. Both are from conservative, rural pro-gun territory, too.

Harris is from Pike County in Appalachia and Coursey from Marshall County in deepest western Kentucky. Coursey spoke at the Calvert City rally. The crowd cheered him on when he said he wasn't renewing his NRA membership.

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Harris is running for reelection, Coursey for county judge-executive.

Taylor beat Thomas in a March, 2016, special election. Thomas bounced back in November. He rode a Trump tidal wave that swept out Taylor and 16 other House Democrats and turned the legislature’s lower chamber Republican for the first time since 1921.

Thomas's Facebook post included a recording of Taylor’s reply; it was also in the radio ad. The post featured a photo of Taylor with Hillary Clinton, both smiling. The caption urged, "STOP JEFF TAYLOR Hillary's Hopkinsville Candidate."

Unlike some other Democrats stumping for the legislature in rural areas two years ago, Taylor didn't run from Clinton. He openly supported her.

Anyway, in the post and the ad, a man declares, “As an avid hunter, a father and grandfather, I’m voting A-rated, NRA-endorsed Walker Thomas.” The man, who says he’s worked for Thomas for more than 10 years, invites voters to hear what “Walker’s opponent, Jeff Taylor, says about gun rights.”

An excerpt from Taylor’s response to the question follows: “And I’m not scared of the NRA and I don’t mind telling the NRA, 'Some of this blood is on your hands and if you were real men, if you were real gun owners, you all would form a committee and give us ideas on how to stop some of this.' Of course, I got an F; give me an F-minus next time because I ain’t backing off.”

Taylor said the Thomas campaign omitted "where I said I knew history would one day vindicate me."

The fate of Taylor, Harris and Coursey won’t be determined until their fellow citizens go to the polls on Nov. 6.

In any event, Taylor said the state media scarcely noted his remarks about the NRA two years ago. But Harris and Coursey’s similar profiles-in-courage stand earned them accolades from the Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader.

Taylor said he knew the political peril of crossing the NRA in his district, which includes Christian County and part of Trigg County. Trump won almost 64 percent of the vote in Christian and a shade over 73 percent in Trigg.

Thomas ran hard on the social issues, notably guns.

“I said what I said about the NRA knowing full well that history would vindicate me,” Taylor said. “I was speaking while also being a card-carrying member of the NRA.”

He confessed that more than a few state party pros and many of his supporters begged him to lay off the NRA.

[dc]“M[/dc]y conscience would not allow me to do so,” he said. “My concern and compassion for the victims of Sandy Hook would not allow me. All I could think was, ‘What if those were my kids?’”

Berry Craig

Taylor said he still owns guns and enjoys hunting. “My position was never about taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. It was about keeping assault weapons out of the hands of those that would shoot up our schools. That gets you an 'F' rating from the NRA?”

Berry Craig