This ain’t ‘Gunsmoke.’ The victims of gun violence, their families and friends are real.

October 10, 2023 5:40 am

Republican attorney general candidate Russell Coleman’s first ad is titled “Lawman.” (Screenshot)

With a month to go before Election Day, GOP attorney general candidate Russell Coleman launched his first ad titled “Lawman.” It opens with an image of Coleman looking menacing on a shooting range: dark sunglasses, black ear protection, black vest, black handgun firing.

While the attorney general is often referred to as a state’s top law enforcement officer, he or she is a prosecutor, an attorney. Last I checked, attorneys wear suits and shined-up shoes, work in an office, argue in court; they are not taking calls direct from 911 and rushing with sirens blaring to an active crime scene, ready for a gunfight. 

In Malcolm Gladwell’s latest season of “Revisionist History,” a podcast, he focuses on Americans’ fascination with firearms and our pop culture obsession with iconic TV lawman Matt Dillon of “Gunsmoke,” a symbol of morality, law and order. The good guy with a gun. Gladwell points out how each show, for the 20 years it aired from 1955 to 1975, most always began “with a shot of Dillon squaring off against a bad guy on the main street in Dodge. He outdraws him, shoots the bad guy dead. Then, after the credits, we see Dillon walking through a cemetery where all the many dead are buried and in voiceover delivering a little homily about the enormous weight on his shoulders.”

This is the image Coleman seemingly longs to evoke in his ad, a modern Matt Dillon, here to save the day.

Tuesday, Oct. 10, marks six months since the Old National Bank mass shooting in Louisville, and our Republican supermajority has long since gone silent on thoughts, prayers, and any public discussion of how it happened and might have been prevented. 

In Pike County this weekend, two people were found dead from gunshots with another person injured. The last sentence in the LEX18 article reads, “An investigation into what exactly happened is still ongoing at this time.”

What exactly happened is that firearm deaths have become so common they are but a drip in the firehose of news of firearm deaths. And what our lawmakers have learned is that the public grows quickly weary of talking about gun violence. It’s too uncomfortable, too politically fraught. We move on.

But you know who does not move on? The families and friends of the dead — dismissed and ignored as they deal with the long-term aftermath of sudden, inexplicable, violent death. Our lawmakers owe them so much more, so much better, than this.

I spent this past weekend with my grandsons, ages 3 and 4. They are not old enough for scary movies or old Westerns like “Gunsmoke,” but they are required to do active shooter drills in preschool, hiding in the dark, practicing being very, very quiet to hide from bad guys with guns who could wipe out their entire classroom in seconds. 

It is a sickening irony that we keep our littlest ones from scary movies while nonchalantly fueling their nightmares about real-life gunmen out to kill them.

Last year, NPR found that false reports of school shootings — called “swatting” — are now commonplace. “Swatting incidents can be particularly dangerous, as officers often enter with force, guns drawn… some entering with their rifles and pistols drawn, running breathlessly through the hallways to find the right classroom. But there was no shooter. Students had been placed on lockdown, police units deployed and school staff were plunged into minutes of terror as a hoax unfolded.”

And we wonder why our kids, from toddlers on up, suffer from overwhelming anxiety. 

Last week in Wisconsin, a man asking to see the governor was arrested for open-carrying a gun inside their Capitol, where open-carry is illegal. After posting bail, “he returned to the outside of the Capitol shortly before 9 p.m., three hours after the building closed, with a loaded assault-style rifle and a collapsible police baton in his backpack… demanded to see the governor and was taken into custody.” 

I recently found myself inside the Kentucky Capitol Annex with a Republican legislator who talked about feeling safe because guns are not allowed there. I was dumbfounded. Guns — open carry and concealed-carry — are legal in the Capitol and the Annex. I could have been carrying a gun and the lawmaker would not have known. 

How long until someone with ill intent does carry a gun into the Capitol, into a lawmaker’s office, unbeknownst to anyone until it’s too late?

What then?

What. Then.

In the last episode of “Revisionist History,” Gladwell recalls Jim Keenan from Boston College telling him, “In the story of the Good Samaritan, a man is beaten and robbed and left for dead at the side of the road, and one by one men of faith, holy men, pass by without stopping and move to the other side of the road. They aren’t complicit in the attack … they choose to look the other way, and that, Keenan says, is the sin. The sin is indifference. Sin is the failure to bother to care.”

From the Old National Bank mass shooting in April to daily gun violence to preschoolers and kids forced to prepare for an active shooter, too many of our elected officials and those running for office are blasé. 

To our lawmakers and those campaigning for our votes: We know the difference between a TV character like Matt Dillon and real life. Your gun videos, your gun photos, your Second Amendment posturing, your pandering to the gun lobby, your pretense that you’re tough on crime because you can shoot a gun on the range, are insulting to everyone you represent, and most insulting to every victim of gun violence and their loved ones. 

This ain’t “Gunsmoke,” and you are not a fictional TV lawman. You have real power. We need you to talk some sense. We need you to find your spine, draft some bipartisan bills, whip the votes, educate your followers, and lead us out of this violent, gun-obsessed mess. 

Your sin is indifference. We need you to bother to care.

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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