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Kentucky To Consider 'Red Flag' Gun Law In Legislative Session

Erica Peterson

Kentucky lawmakers will consider whether to adopt a “red flag” law during next year’s legislative session. The bipartisan measure would allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous by law enforcement or family members.

Shelbyville Republican Sen. Paul Hornback is one of the bill's sponsors. He says that he supports gun rights but that new restrictions must be created because “society has changed.”

“We’ve got to start this conversation, we need to stop saying no and we need to look at what can be done, what are the little things we can do,” Hornback told the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary on Friday.

At least 17 states have red flag laws,including neighboring Indiana, which has had one on the books since 2005. In the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the summer, President Donald Trump signaled support for red flag laws.

Hornback is still writing the red flag proposal along with Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey, who said that the measure will allow law enforcement or close family members to ask a court to temporarily take guns away from an individual.

“It’s a timeout from people who could harm themselves, could harm others,” McGarvey said.

“It’s not taking anything away from someone, it’s giving them time to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves.”

Kirsten Russell of Louisville testified in favor of the proposal, saying it would have helped disarm her mentally ill brother, who killed their mother in 2018.

“If only we could’ve called law enforcement and shared our concerns regarding his behavior,” Russell said.

“If only when we had done that they would’ve had a way to temporarily separate my brother from his guns to ensure his safety and to ensure everyone else’s.”

Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear has signaled support for a red flag law. Outgoing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has criticized the proposal as "an erosion of our constitutional rights.”

Red flag proposals have been opposed by some gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association.

Arthur Thomm, NRA state director for Kentucky, spoke against the bill, saying it would cause unintended consequences.

“Due process is not respected,” Thomm said. “You come in, you take the firearms from these folks or attempt to take the firearms from these folks and now they have to prove that they’re innocent.”

Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge, said that the proposal would be unconstitutional.

“The bottom line in all that we’ve heard today is that this proposal seeks to confiscate firearms from citizens who have not committed a crime,” Maddox said.

Maddox was one of the lawmakers who sponsored Kentucky's new law that allows people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

Kentucky lawmakers have been loath to pass gun restrictions, even in the wake of the fatal shooting of two 15 year-olds at Marshall County High School in January 2018.

The legislature has repeatedly ignored proposals that would require gun owners to lock up their weapons if they have children living with them and state law precludes local governments from passing laws that deal with firearm access.

Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah whose district includes Marshall County High School, said that he has concerns with the red flag proposal, but that lawmakers need to do something.

“Everybody’s got to stop taking this 'absolutely yes, absolutely no' stances. We’ve got to come to a common ground and we’ve got to make an effort,” Carroll said.

“If we don’t do something, we’re all responsible if this continues. We all take responsibility for it, I don’t care what side you’re on. You’ve got to set aside your strong feelings and you’ve got to do what’s right to protect our kids and protect our families.”

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