LEXINGTON, Ky. — Many Democrats, nationally and in Frankfort, have called for more gun control in the wake of the mass shooting event in Louisville.
But the state legislature, controlled by Republicans for the last several years, has focused on limiting gun control.
Most recently the General Assembly passed a bill making Kentucky a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” which has already become law because it contained an emergency clause. That law, sponsored by Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, bars local and state police from enforcing any federal firearm regulation banning guns, ammunition, or firearm accessories that takes effect after Jan. 21, 2021.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear did not veto the bill, House Bill 153, instead allowing it to become law without his signature.
A former attorney general, Beshear said last month that while he’s a “strong supporter” of the Second Amendment, bills like House Bill 153 don’t hold up to scrutiny.
“I’d just like us to spend our time on things that we know are constitutional, and that can improve our lives, like economic development, expansion of health care,” he said. “That one will be challenged by someone in court, and each and every time it’s struck down.”
All but two of the 27 Democrats in Frankfort voted against the bill, with a few Republicans in the Senate joining them.
“What happened today in Louisville is a tragedy,” Bray said on Monday. “Unfortunately, as a society we’ve seen the value of life drop to the point where it can be taken callously and selfishly. Whether House Bill 153 became law or not it would not have prevented today’s tragedy. There is no piece of legislation that could have prevented the evil that unfolded today. The brutal act that took place was already illegal and carries the strictest punishment in the Commonwealth.”
Another bill that would have loosened gun restrictions in the state appeared to be moving through the legislature, but fell flat this session. Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, was pushing a bill that would have forced public colleges and universities in Kentucky to allow many students to carry guns on campus, preventing the institutions from barring people 21 years and older from carrying a concealed weapon on campuses.
The bill was opposed by the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). Maddox announced during session that it did not have the votes to pass the Republican-controlled legislature.
Maddox worked to pass one of the most consequential gun bills in the state of late in 2019, receiving plaudits from the National Rifle Association (NRA) for helping carry a “constitutional carry” bill. That bill, passed with the strong support of former Republican governor Matt Bevin, established that no separate permit or training is required for legal gun owners to conceal carry a gun.
Democrats in the legislature filed multiple bills introducing gun control measures, but none of them were assigned to a committee. Two Lexington legislators filed bills on the topic.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, filed a bill that would have allowed urban-county governments, of which Lexington is the only in the state, and consolidated local governments to further regulate firearms and ammunition to reduce gun violence.
Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, filed a bill that would have banned possession of an assault rifle in most cases, among other things.
Recent bipartisan efforts to pass a “red flag” law, allowing courts to order law enforcement to take firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, have floundered in Frankfort. Despite the support of Senate Majority Caucus Leader Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and former veteran GOP senator Paul Hornback, an effort to get such a bill passed has received tepid reception in Frankfort.
The founder of Moms Demand Action, one of the leading organizations calling for gun control in America, Shannon Watts said that Kentucky’s gun laws are “ among the worst in the US, and the state has the 13th-highest rate of gun violence.” She also called House Bill 153 “dangerous.”
In response to school shootings in Kentucky and the rest of the nation, the legislature has pushed to fund School Resource Officers (SROs). A bill was passed during last year’s legislative session to mandate that all school campuses, with some exceptions where funding is not available, have an SRO. Though many Democrats voted against the bill, Beshear signed it and said that some bipartisan progress could be made on the subject.
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