‘Cringeworthy’ performances by Quarles, legislature rankle. Especially on a Sunday.

‘I am not anti-gun. I am anti gun-violence, and there is a difference.’

February 21, 2023 5:30 am

The tradition of rubbing Abraham Lincoln’s toe for good luck leaves his statue’s boot shiny and worn. During the Kentucky Fairness Rally for LGBTQ Rights, the colors of the Progress Pride flag shared the Rotunda with Lincoln, who once famously said, “With malice toward none and charity for all.” (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)

This past Sunday, I did what many of my fellow Kentuckians do: I went to church. 

I live way out in the country, so on the drive to town I called to check on my dad. He told me my stepmother’s little dog, Magic, had died and that he had taken Magic’s ashes to the cemetery and dug a little hole by my stepmother’s grave so they could be together. 

Ryan Quarles tweet

In church, I said a special prayer for my sweet dad. The pastor’s sermon was “Focus on Community.” I served communion with my fellow deacons. In Sunday School, we talked about baptism. I attended the church board meeting where I learned that Backpack Buddies — a countywide program that sends hundreds of bags of food home with kids in need on weekends — is suddenly serving an additional hundred kids a week and running out of money. 

Later in the afternoon, I was making a tuna casserole for dinner when I saw a Twitter post by Kentucky gubernatorial candidate and current Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. It was a photo of a handgun and ammo clips in an open gun case that read simply, “Sunday Funday!” 

His photo was such a stark disconnect with how I had spent the day. How most Kentuckians spend or think of a Sunday. And yet, it was not the photo of a firearm that rankled me. Come on, now, I live in a rural area. I see guys with guns all the time. It was the performative desperation of the photo; the childishness of the words “Sunday Funday!” alongside; the way the gun seemed so deliberately posed with Commissioner Quarles’ tossed-off aviator sunglasses as if to say, Look at how cool I am! 

The word “cringeworthy” came to mind, particularly after last week’s cringeworthy GOP-controlled legislative display in which Republican state senators spent much of their time and our tax dollars publicly disparaging LGBTQ kids with Sen. Max Wise’s SB150.

I was inside the packed Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday afternoon for the LGBTQ rights rally. In stark contrast to what was happening in committee hearings and on the floor of the legislature, what I witnessed was grace, joy, compassion and love. Speakers from Gov. Andy Beshear and Lt. Gov.  Jacqueline Coleman to Democratic lawmakers to novelist Silas House and our beautiful, brave kids, this was a gathering that mirrored what most of us do in church on Sundays, where we vow to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The next morning, Thursday, I was back at the Capitol for Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day where we have the opportunity to talk with legislators about how to make our communities safer from the threat of gun violence.

Rep. James Tipton

I met with my representative, Republican James Tipton, for about 15 minutes and asked for his support to create a state-level Office of Safer Communities (federally funded) which would collect/share data and coordinate efforts directed at violence prevention, including gun violence. I also asked him to support the Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention Bill which protects the rights of gun owners while providing law enforcement with a process to temporarily suspend access to guns to someone who is an imminent danger to themselves or others. 

He nodded politely.

Rep. Tipton and I live in the same small community, which means we see each other on a fairly regular basis. I am comfortable talking with him. This, however, is where I tell you that it was still impossible to move him off the standard GOP talking point: Kentuckians are big on their Second Amendment rights. 

So let me say to Commissioner Quarles — with his “Sunday Funday!” gun tweet — something akin to what I said to Rep. Tipton in his office: Guns are not toys and should not be used for “Look at me! I’m cool!” social media posts. I am not anti-gun — our police chief himself taught me how to shoot — I am anti gun-violence, and there is a difference. And as someone who lives out in the country and sees folks carrying guns everywhere from Kroger to Walmart, I do not need politicians to lecture me on gun culture, nor do most Kentuckians.

While I was in Rep. Tipton’s office, he tried to move our conversation to the subject of murders in Louisville (another favorite talking point of the Kentucky GOP) and I reminded him of a young man in our rural community who died recently by gunshot. A man who was clearly in crisis and might well be alive today if he had not been carrying a gun.

And thus our meeting ended.

From the way our GOP legislators use the power of their offices to not address gun violence to the Quarles gun post to the casual cruelty of fighting for a bill that does nothing but promote the bullying of LGBTQ school kids, I am at a loss. 

Where is the focus on community and loving your neighbor, like the sermon I heard in church on Sunday? Where is the courage to address very real gun violence like a normal, caring human being? Where are the plans to solve food insecurity for families and kids who rely on programs — programs wondering where to find funding — like Backpack Buddies? 

Where? Summed up in the pandering, witless tweet of a GOP gubernatorial candidate. Kentuckians are struggling in more ways than I can count, but hey, I’m running for governor and it’s “Sunday Funday!” with my gun.

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Teri Carter
Teri Carter

Teri Carter writes about rural Kentucky life and politics for publications like the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal, The Daily Yonder and The Washington Post. You can find her at