Taking stock one year after a bank staff meeting was turned into a bloodbath

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

April 10 marks one year since a mentally unstable 25-year-old walked into Old National Bank in Louisville and shot five people to death — Thomas Elliott, James Tutt Jr., Juliana Farmer, Joshua Barrick, Deana Eckert — and injured eight, including Nickolas Wilt, a young police officer who was shot in the head and miraculously survived.

Dr. Jason Smith, the chief medical officer at University of Louisville Hospital, called on lawmakers to address gun violence. “To everyone who helps make policy, both at state, city, [and] federal levels – I would simply ask you to do something. Because doing nothing — which is what we’ve been doing — is not working.”

Listening to Dr. Smith, I was certain — absolutely 100%, no doubt, certain — that a gunman waltzing into an upscale office and shooting bankers to death during a staff meeting might be the nightmare scenario to move our powerful Republican supermajority, in the words of Dr. Smith, to do something. 

I have bad news.

They did nothing. 

Frankfort is a mirage; a big, marble-floored, rock on a hill; a fraternal house of optical illusion where mostly men come together ostensibly to make policy, to debate in good faith, but are really there these days to sling culture wars clickbait and craft an annual slogan small enough to fit on a cereal box.

This year’s slogan: Safer Kentucky!

House Bill 5 was titled the “Safer Kentucky Act” (see what they did there?) and was both sprawling and simple: just lock everyone up until they’re dead. 

I remember sitting through an evening committee hearing on HB 5 — the one where we found out the data supporting the bill came from Georgia, not Kentucky — and telling a friend on my drive home from the Frankfort mirage, “If those bill sponsors worked in the private sector, they’d all be fired for cause.” 

Senate Bill 20 said kids should be tried as adults if “they were at least 15 years old at the time of an alleged crime and used a gun while committing a Class A, B or C felony — whether or not the gun was “functional.””

Senate Bill 2 will put armed, volunteer ‘guardians’ in schools. In pushing back on this absurd idea, I have been patted on the head and repeatedly told that this bill is flawed and will be “fixed later.” How can anyone with a half-functioning brain pass a bill to arm strangers in our kids’ schools on the vow to “fix it later?” 

But hey, these are our lawmakers — they make THE LAWS — even as this year’s crime bills are nothing more than an eat-your-Wheaties-style sales pitch. Safer Kentucky! 

You will not be any safer, and your lawmakers know it, but they desperately need you to believe, like in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, that you and your kids will be safer … until the November elections are over. 

Rookie Police Officer Nickolas Wilt was shot in the head as he approached the building where a mass shooter lay in wait after spraying his coworkers with automatic weapon fire on April 10, 2023. Louisville Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel gave Wilt a fist bump as he left Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in late July of 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)

As we mark one year since the Old National Bank mass shooting, let’s take a look at two gun bills side by side, both filed in this regular session by Republicans.

There was Sen. Whitney Westerfield’s CARR bill — crisis aversion and rights retention — which specifically addressed mental health and firearm access.

CARR was talked about and written about for months before the senator ever presented his bill to the public. When he finally introduced CARR in the Interim Joint Judiciary Committee on Dec. 15, the room was so bursting with hope that two overflow rooms were needed. 

Families of the victims of Old National Bank were there. Whitney Austin, a woman who survived being shot 12 times at a bank in 2018, and others testified in favor. Many hard questions were asked by lawmakers. 

The day Westerfield filed the bill in late January, he and co-sponsor David Yates, a Louisville Democrat, held a standing-room-only press conference. Notably Sen. David Givens, president pro tempore of the Senate, stood in the back of the room. Surely, if for no other reason than out of respect to Westerfield, the CARR bill would be assigned to the Judiciary Committee he chaired, placed upon the agenda, and discussed.

But CARR — presciently assigned unlucky Senate Bill 13 — met its fate on March 1 when it was assigned to Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection and never saw the light again.

In chilling contrast there was Senate Bill 2 — volunteer “guardians” to carry guns in our schools — which sprung from nowhere on Feb. 22 and got its first hearing a week later. The only person who testified in favor was the sponsor himself, Sen. Max Wise, and his bill passed with ease out of committees and in the Senate. Look Ma! No hands!

On the last day of the session, I waited at the Capitol from 8 a.m. until dinnertime to see if this “guardian” bill would get its final passage. I watched the board all day. It was never posted. I assumed it was dead and went home. In the final hour, between 11 pm and midnight, SB 2 was called for a vote on the House floor, debate was limited by leadership to three minutes per side, and it passed. Poof!

So if you’re playing along, the bill vetted and discussed for months that would have given loved ones a legal avenue to remove firearms from someone suffering a mental health crisis, endangering themselves or others, was left in the trash bin. Too hard to sell.

The flawed, not fully thought out, “we can fix it later,” last-minute bill to put armed volunteers in our schools passed as easy as plucking a blade of bluegrass. A Safer Kentucky! 

After the Old National Bank mass shooting a year ago, Dr. Smith addressed the media. “To be honest with you, we barely had to adjust our operating room schedule to be able to do this. That’s how frequent we are having to deal with gun violence in our community,” he said. “I’ll tell you personally, I’m weary … I’m more than tired, I’m weary. There’s only so many times you can walk into a room and tell someone their [loved one] is not coming home tomorrow. And it just breaks your heart when you hear someone screaming mommy, or daddy, it just becomes too hard, day in and day out, to be able to do that.”

What did lawmakers — our powerful Republican supermajority — do to address Dr. Smith’s concerns? 


It will remain easy in Kentucky for a mentally ill person, intent on doing harm, to buy guns and ammunition minutes before walking into an office and shooting innocent people to death during a staff meeting.

The Safer Kentucky Act was just an act. 

Frankfort has become nothing but a swirling mirage of scare tactics to drive voters to the polls, a place where culture wars and sound bites suck up all of the oxygen in lieu of real lawmaking. 

The big GOP legislative priority this year was to scream “Safer Kentucky!” over and over and over again — He likes it! Hey Mikey! — to feed the electoral Beast come November. That’s all.

The goal was never to make you safer. 

The goal was simply to keep themselves in power so they can come back and do nothing again next year.

Louisville hosted a community vigil two days after the shooting that left six people, including, the shooter dead, and a police officer in critical condition. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Abbey Cutrer)

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