LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Days after securing a re-election match-up with a wealthy Kentucky Democrat, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul declared his support for allowing guns in every school, movie theater and supermarket in America in a speech to the National Rifle Association.
Paul did not mention his opponent in November's general election, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Instead, he focused most of his speech on displaying his pro-gun bona fides and urging the elimination of all gun-free zones, including public schools.
"Look, I've got children. I can't imagine one of my kids being killed at school by a deranged killer. But, as a physician, I was trained to solve problems, to get beyond emotions and find answers," Paul said. "I think one way to try to avoid these senseless killings would be to announce, once and for all time, that no school, no movie-theater, no supermarket in America will be left defenseless."
Paul was one of two Kentuckians who spoke to the NRA's Leadership Forum at Freedom Hall in Louisville __ a gun-free zone Friday__ including Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell was invited to speak, but spokesman Robert Steurer said the speaking schedule was running "significantly behind" and McConnell had to leave "because of prior scheduling commitments."
Paul's speech comes as he has tried to win support among African-Americans in the country's inner cities, battered for generations by gun violence. Paul has campaigned in Louisville's predominantly African-American West End neighborhood and traveled to Chicago last year to say that crime is not a racial problem, but a spiritual one. Friday, before thousands of screaming gun enthusiasts, Paul said: "No longer can cities like DC or Chicago trample on the second amendment."
"If anybody needs self-defense, I would think African-Americans need it just as much as other people," Paul told The Associated Press in an interview before his speech. "I would find it, you know, worse if we said to cities that are predominantly African-American: 'You can't buy guns.'"
Both Paul and Bevin were secondary attractions on Friday, as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke for about 30 minutes. Paul, a first-term Senator who ended his presidential campaign after a fifth place finish in the Iowa caucuses, was one of Trump's harshest critics during the campaign, but told The Associated Press in an interview before his speech that he will support the Republican nominee.
"I think (Republicans) are becoming more united. Nobody gets to nominate or elect a candidate that they perfectly agree with," he said. "I think one uniting force is Hillary Clinton."
Bevin, who has declined to endorse Trump, referred to him as "the next President of the United States" during his speech. He said the country is "under assault from regulation and liberal ideology and we are the ones who have to stand in the gap."
"This is our time," he said, adding: "This is not a game. We have got to stop being so apathetic. It is the greatest threat that we face."