Addressing Kentucky’s Gun Violence Crisis: Rep. Keturah Herron’s Legislative Blueprint

by Rep. Keturah Herron, D – Louisville

In 2004, when Kentucky was in the early years of a devastating rise in drug-related deaths, state officials understood that effective solutions depended first on reliable data.  That led them to create the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, which quickly became a statewide leader in helping us determine the epidemic’s true size and how best to address it.

It’s a proven model – and one we desperately need to repeat as Kentucky copes with another wave of preventable deaths, this time by gun violence.

This issue is so important to me that it was the basis of my first-ever bill, which I filed moments after being sworn into the Kentucky House of Representatives in late February 2022.

House Bill 644 sought to create the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Health, a move that recognizes this as the public-health crisis it is and which follows the path Congress took in 2019, when it authorized federal health officials to conduct this research after a more-than-two-decade moratorium.

I sponsored a similar proposal during this year’s legislative session, and will try again when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

There certainly is no denying the need.  One in five Americans has a direct connection to fatal gun violence, and 120 people are killed by a firearm every day.  For Black Americans like me, the rate is 10 times worse than for those who are white.

A recent poll by Pew Research Center underscores the fear many have, with about 60 percent of Americans calling gun violence a major problem.  That’s nine percentage points higher than in 2022, and about the same percentage expects the crisis to worsen in the next five years.

I see this devastation up close in my legislative district, where I have received numerous calls from constituents distraught over loved ones who have been murdered in the prime of their lives.  A lot of these victims are still in their teens, and many others their age tell me that getting a gun is easier than finding a job.

There is a vast underground firearms market, and it’s the foundation of a grim statistic showing that, in both 2020 and 2021, firearm deaths killed more U.S. children between the ages of one and 17 than motor vehicle accidents or illness.  Their mortality rate from gun violence has actually doubled in just a decade.

We are failing our young people, but if there is one thing we have learned as a state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, pretending we can solve it by building new jails, prisons and juvenile-detention centers is not the answer.

Many solutions have been offered by both sides of the political aisle, from loosening to tightening firearm restrictions to focusing more on mental-health treatment.  We can cite one national statistic after another to back up whatever proposal we support, but we lack the Kentucky-specific data that would show us what would truly work best here.

An office dedicated to data, prevention and serving as a channel for federal funding in these areas should not be seen as partisan, or as a prelude to any particular legislative action.  It should be recognized simply for what it is, a source that will give us better information and more expertise to address something we all should want: an end to senseless gun violence.

Last year, Congress passed bipartisan legislation that marked an important step forward in this area, and last month, the White House announced a national Office of Gun Violence Prevention.  Slowly but surely, we are finding more and more common ground rather than letting ourselves be governed by inaction.

Just as we have learned with the drug epidemic, anecdotal evidence, political rhetoric and blind hope are not the foundation for good public policy.  The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy showed us there is a better way, and I believe that it is past time to walk down that path again.  My legislation is the vehicle that can make this happen.

Photo: Rep. Keturah Herron. (Official photo)