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Louisville will disassemble guns seized by police before sending to auction

Mayor Craig Greenberg holds a manila envelope and stands at a lectern with the Louisville seal on it. Interim Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwynn-Villaroel stands behind to his right.
Roberto Roldan
/
LPM
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg holds up an envelope containing what he said was a gun used by a 17-year-old in a recent shooting.

Mayor Craig Greenberg announced Thursday that Louisville will remove the firing pins from guns seized by police before shipping them off to the state for auction.

The measure is mostly symbolic, as whoever purchases the firearm could re-insert the pin, making it operable again. But Greenberg and local law enforcement officials say it will send a message about the role of illegal firearms in Louisville’s gun violence crisis. Since 2020, the city has seen a spike in homicides and non-fatal shootings.

Kentucky law requires state police to auction guns seized by local police during an investigation. Greenberg said the city will put a sticker on the firearms noting that 146 people in Louisville were killed by guns last year, including 14 children.

A black-and-orange sticker reading "WARNING: DEADLY WEAPONS LIKE THIS ONE CAUSED 146 HOMICIDES BY GUNSHOT WOUND IN LOUISVILLE IN 2022. FOURTEEN OF THOSE DEATHS WERE CHILDREN." It sits on top of and obscures a press release on the subject.
Roberto Roldan
/
LPM
Stickers like this one will be affixed to disassembled guns before they are sent to Kentucky State Police to be auctioned.

“This gun should never end up back on the streets of Louisville and have the opportunity to be used in another crime,” he said, holding up a paper envelope containing a gun used by a 17-year-old in a recent shooting. “We must stop this madness.”

A 2021 investigation by the Courier Journal found dozens of guns sold at auction later resurfaced in other criminal investigations.

During his campaign for mayor, Greenberg vowed to render guns seized by the Louisville Metro Police Department inoperable. But after reviewing the state law creating the auctions, he said Thursday that Louisville does not have the authority to permanently disable the firearms.

Greenberg threw his support behind HB 325, authored by Democratic Rep. Keturah Herron of Louisville, which would change the law to make that possible.

“When we seize drugs in our city, we don’t put those drugs back on the street and give them to a different drug dealer. We destroy them,” Greenberg said. “Why don’t we do the same thing with guns?”

He survived an attempted shooting at his campaign office a year ago.

LMPD Interim Chief Jacquelyn Gwynn-Villaroel said the department has “thousands” of seized guns stockpiled, awaiting transfer to Kentucky State Police.

With her on stage was a family member, Krista Gwynn, whose 19-year-old son was murdered in 2019. Gwynn’s daughter was also seriously injured in a 2021 shooting.

“The gun that killed my son should be destroyed,” Gwynn said, her voice shaking. “The gun that shot my daughter should be destroyed.”

Gwynn said the level of gun violence in Louisville and throughout the country is “a pandemic,” and she called the city’s new procedure for seized guns “a stepping stone.”

“Take the pin out, then maybe next year we can destroy the gun itself,” she said.

The proposed bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives was introduced Wednesday and has not yet been slated for a committee hearing.

Currently, Kentucky State police keep 20% of the proceeds from the sale of the seized firearms to reimburse the agency for running the program. The rest of the money funds the state’s Law Enforcement Protection Program, which distributes grants to local police departments for body armor, weapons, ammunition and body cameras.

In a statement, Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police President Ryan Straw said his organization opposes HB 325 and any legislation that would permit rendering firearms unusable. The KY State FOP represents local police unions and departments across the state.

“We appreciate and share Mayor Greenberg’s desire to see a more safer Louisville but this will not achieve that objective,” Straw said. “Statewide, this will have far reaching ramifications for police & sheriffs departments that rely on funds from the legal sale of these firearms to purchase life saving body armor for law enforcement.”

Straw also noted that only federally licensed dealers are allowed to purchase the weapons.

Greenberg said the amount of money LMPD gets from auction sales is a “very small” part of the department’s budget. LMPD did not immediately respond to a request for specific funding numbers. Greenberg said his administration would ensure LMPD is properly equipped and wouldn’t see a budget shortfall from this new policy.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.