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Why Louisville Can't Adopt Local Firearm Laws, Even as Gun Violence Spikes

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Following several high-profile mass shootings across the U.S., some cities are taking another look at their gun policies.

Those efforts may have gotten a boost recently when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to not hear a case about a Chicago gun law, potentially giving local governments a greenlight to consider firearm regulations.

Louisville has dealt with its own issues with gun violence. Homicides in the city spiked in 2015, and guns were used in many of those murders. But local firearm regulations won't happen in Louisville, or anywhere else in Kentucky — state law prohibits local government from adopting local gun law.

In 2012, the General Assembly further weakened the role of local governments in gun laws. The legislature barred local governments from prohibiting guns in certain venues. That’s why Louisville, for example, can’t stop people from bringing in guns.

That bill passed 88-8 in the Democrat-led Kentucky House of Representatives. Seven of the no votes were from Jefferson County’s delegation in the House.

Mayor Greg Fischer is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 1,000 mayors from big cities and small towns from across the U.S. who pledge to keep criminals from possessing guns illegally in their city.

As the number of shootings in Louisville climbs, Democratic Metro Councilman David James said the city should take a look at gun laws. But James — a former police officer — said the city can’t.

As of last month, local law enforcement officials said there have been more than 300 shootings in Louisville this year.

“It’s very frustrating not to be able to have home rule on many issues,” he said.

Not all council members see it that way. Republican Councilman Kelly Downard said he thinks the state’s ban keeps laws uniform and saves the city from itself.

“I think every time we separate ourselves as a city we make some kind of mistake,” he said. “We usually do.”

James said a good way for the city to address a spike in gun violence in Louisville is to deal with the underlying issues, such as drug and gang activity in the city. He said gun control won’t fix everything.

“But I would say there are some common sense gun laws that I think we really need to look at,” James said. “Those deal with background checks and people who have already been deemed unsafe to themselves and unsafe to others not being able to have access to guns.”

Courts currently deem members of the community safe or unsafe to themselves and others. James said it would be helpful to have a database of people who are deemed unsafe, so that they aren’t sold guns.

If the city was able to address gun-related issues, James said he would also like to require background checks at gun shows in Louisville.

But Downard said restricting people from guns won’t fix these issues because people who are deemed incompetent could hurt people with other weapons.

“They are going to do the same thing with knives,” he said. “They are going to do same thing with a baseball bat. So, you have to separate those issues.”

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