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‘We need short-term action’: Democrats push for gun violence solutions

First responders outside Old National Bank on Monday April 10, 2023.
Ryan Van Velzer
First responders outside Old National Bank on Monday April 10, 2023.

As Louisvillians mourn in the wake of yet another mass shooting, some local and state elected officials are calling for concrete policy responses – from universal background checks to destroying confiscated firearms – to curb gun violence in Kentucky.

The mass shooting at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville Monday has renewed calls for Kentucky lawmakers to pass gun safety legislation. But there’s been little support for such efforts in the GOP-led statehouse in the past, and Republican leaders’ responses to the tragedy so far have avoided calls for concrete action.

Six people, including a suspected shooter, died during the incident. Several others were transported to University of Louisville Hospital with injuries.

Louisville Democratic state Rep. Keturah Herron said she will keep pushing for two proposals she filed in the most recent legislative session: creating an Office of Safer Communities to analyze data on gun-related incidents statewide and allowing local jurisdictions to destroy confiscated firearms.

Neither of those proposals got a hearing – let alone passed – during the recently concluded legislative session. But Herron said she sees both as “low-hanging fruit” for immediate action in the fight against gun violence. She added that she’s talked to Republican colleagues in recent months for feedback on the proposals.

“I know that I will be following up with some of those folks and seeing if I can get some support moving forward,” Herron said. “It’s going to take a collaboration of elected officials – a collaboration of victims, survivors, perpetrator families, business leaders, religious leaders – to come up with what makes sense for our state, in order for us to get anything done.”

The only gun-related measure that passed out of the Kentucky Legislature this year creates a policy to punish police if they comply with federal restrictions of firearms, ammunition or accessories. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear allowed it to pass into law without his signature.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, like Herron, condemned a state law that mandates the public auction of confiscated firearms, noting that the gun used during the shooting on Monday will eventually be auctioned off. Instead, Greenberg said, those firearms should be destroyed.

Greenberg also called on lawmakers to repeal Kentucky’s law that bans local governments from regulating guns. He said Louisville Metro should have the autonomy to “make our own choices about how we reduce gun violence” in the city.

“We need short-term action to end this gun violence epidemic now so fewer people die in our streets, and in our banks, and in our schools, and in our churches,” Greenberg said. “Let’s change the state laws that would make me a criminal for trying too hard to stop the real criminals who are taking people's lives, and are eager to make a spectacle of mass murder.”

Congressman Morgan McGarvey, who represents Louisville and is the only Democrat in Kentucky’s congressional delegation, echoed Greenberg’s calls for a policy response.

"We don't have the tools on the books to deal with someone who is an imminent danger to themselves or to others,” McGarvey said at the press conference, alluding to this week’s shooting in Louisville.

While serving in the state Senate, McGarvey was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers to propose a so-called “red flag” law, which would create a process to temporarily confiscate firearms from people in crisis. The proposal received little support besides Democrats and a small group of Republicans in the legislature.

McGarvey also pushed for universal background checks, so that “people who shouldn’t have a gun can’t buy one.”

Currently, Kentucky has no law requiring gun owners or purchasers to obtain a license. In 2019, Kentucky repealed its requirement that people obtain a license and background check to carry concealed firearms in public.

Many Republican state lawmakers have refrained from advocating for gun control in the wake of this week’s mass shooting. But Republican state Rep. Kevin Bratcher told LPM that he would support mental health evaluations for those purchasing firearms, adding that bipartisanship is important.

“There’s many things on the table, and we all need to come to the table and quit the rhetoric,” Bratcher said. “Nobody that’s mentally ill should have a gun – I agree with that. How do you get to the point of doing that without infringing on other people’s rights is the question mark, and it needs to be looked at.”

When asked about proposals from Democratic lawmakers to allow local jurisdictions to destroy confiscated firearms, Bratcher said he would consider supporting it if it would “save one human life” – but, he added, he does not believe it would be an effective policy.

Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Fruit Hill and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said following the Louisville shooting that he would be willing to have “conversations” about gun safety.

“We’ve got to have conversations about what government can do to protect against gun violence. Government cannot be the only solution, but it must be part of it. I don’t pretend to have a solution, but I’m willing to try to find one,” Westerfield Tweeted on Monday.

The shooting in Louisville came just two weeks after a separate mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, announced on Tuesday that he will sign an executive order to strengthen background checks for gun purchases. Lee is also calling for lawmakers to pass a type of red flag law.

Kentucky Democratic Rep. Daniel Grossberg advocated on Twitter for Beshear to call a special legislative session to respond to this week’s gun violence.

Herron said she and other Kentucky Democrats will fight for policy and legislation, since executive orders can be easily overturned.

“That is what we will be pushing for: concrete policy that is on the books,” Herron said.

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