Path on state gun laws unclear weeks after Louisville shooting – KY has had 101 gun deaths so far in 2023

BY: MCKENNA HORSLEY, Kentucky Lantern

More than a month after two mass shootings in Louisville in a single week left seven victims dead, political leaders in Frankfort are saying little about what changes may be made to Kentucky’s gun laws. 

In April, five victims died after a 25-year-old man entered Louisville’s Old National Bank and opened fire on his coworkers with an AR-15 rifle that he had legally purchased six days before. Days later, two victims died after shots were fired into a crowd at Chickasaw Park. The tragedies moved conversations about gun violence to the forefront of Kentucky politics. 

In the aftermath, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg called for specific action from state leaders: Give Kentucky cities more power to create local gun regulations and change a decades-old state law that requires guns confiscated by law enforcement to be sold at public auction. 

Gov. Andy Beshear, whose friend Thomas Elliot, the bank’s senior vice president, died in the first shooting, told CNN that he has advocated for “red flag” laws, which are also known as extreme risk protection orders. Such laws temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms if they are at immediate risk of harming others or themselves. 

Beshear did not call a special session after the Louisville shooting, unlike Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who ordered a special session after a school shooting in Nashville. Tennessee lawmakers will meet in August. 

Beshear is seen as a centrist on gun control and has not supported banning assault weapons.

In August 2017, while serving as attorney general, Beshear signed an amicus brief led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, supporting petitioners in Kolbe v. Hogan, which challenged Maryland’s ban on semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines. Other signatures include former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin who signed via his then-legal counsel, M. Stephen Pitt. The Supreme Court of the United States later refused to review the case. 

When asked about the case last week in a news conference, Beshear said he would have to review the brief before commenting. He again referenced his support of “red flag” laws, saying they respect Second Amendment rights and give law enforcement officials a needed tool. Beshear also criticized the sale of confiscated guns. 

“’Red flag’ laws have been passed in all different types of states, including ones that would be described as red or blue or otherwise,” the governor said. “And I think it is a reasonable step here, but if the General Assembly isn’t willing to talk about that yet, can’t we all agree that the family of someone murdered shouldn’t have to watch the weapon that was used auctioned off to the highest bidder? That disrespects those that have gone through so much trauma.” 

He added the state budget could cover the money police departments may get from gun sales, which is sometimes used for items like body armor.  

Beshear, who is seeking reelection this year, will face Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron in November. In a KET debate before the May 16 primary, Cameron said he wouldn’t “support any kind of gun control.”

“The Second Amendment,” Cameron said, “is sacrosanct. We need to make sure that we protect it for Kentuckians all across the commonwealth.”

General Assembly 

David Osborne. (LRC photo)

Recently, 16 Democratic state lawmakers proposed policies in response to gun violence in Kentucky. Their suggestions, which they plan to bring to next year’s legislative session, include a red flag law, legal responsibility to safely store a weapon and voluntary “do not sell” lists for suicidal individuals. 

In Frankfort, Republican House Speaker David Osborne told reporters recently that “active conversations” are being had with House Republicans, state senators, Louisville leaders and other interest groups and stakeholders. 

“I think that there are some things that you will see us undertake to try to address some issues in the next session,” he said. “As to what those are, I wouldn’t speculate yet.”

In the most recent legislative session, a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary bill — prohibiting law enforcement and public funds in Kentucky from being used to enforce a federal ban on guns, ammunition and firearm accessories — became law without Beshear’s signature.  

As of Monday, Kentucky has had 301 shootings in 2023, according to national nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. From those shootings, 226 victims were injured and 101 victims were killed.

Of the 301 shootings, 167 were in Louisville.

The Kentucky city with the second-highest number of shootings in that time frame was Lexington with 38.

Reporter Liam Niemeyer contributed to this report.

Top photo: Keri Foy stands with her children on April 12 in front of a memorial for those who died in a mass shooting at the Old National Bank in Louisville. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Abbey Cutrer)