Bipartisan group to present gun legislation Friday

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2023

All eyes will be on the Interim Judiciary Committee this Friday.

A bipartisan group of legislators led by State Sens. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, and David Yates, D-Louisville, are planning to introduce a bill that would temporarily remove firearms from Kentuckians thought to be experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention Act is backed by the WhitneyStrong Organization, founded after Louisvillian Whitney Austin survived a 2018 mass shooting in Cincinnati.

The organization’s board includes gun owners and non-gun owners, as well as Democrats and Republicans.

Westerfield said that he started working on the bill after the Uvalde, Texas, shooting in May 2022.

“It bothered me that those kids at the school were the age of my kids. It really bothered me then, it bothers me now,” Westerfield said.

” … I thought there ought to be something that we can do, and we shouldn’t be afraid to have a conversation about what that solution should look like.”

What do the statistics say?

According to Everytown for Gun Safety statistics, an average of 823 Kentuckians die from guns each year — the 12th-highest rate in the country. Sixty-one percent of those deaths are suicides.

The economic cost of gun violence amounts to $2,155 per resident each year.

According to RAND Corporation estimates, about half of Kentucky households own at least one gun.

The Jason Foundation has found that 80% of individuals considering suicide give some sign of their intentions, verbally or behaviorally.

How would the bill work?

The bill’s full details won’t be shared until Friday, but Austin’s organization follows a pattern for its legislation.

First, a concerned community member would provide evidence to local law enforcement showing that a gun owner may be a harm to themselves or others.

If the officer agrees, they file a petition to a court. The judge then approves or denies the order temporarily transferring the at-risk individual’s firearm to another party.

If granted, the individual’s firearms are transferred to law enforcement or a trusted person outside of their household.

Then the court holds a hearing so that the individual and the judge can determine next steps, like opportunities for mental health support services.

When the individual is no longer considered in crisis, their firearms will be returned to them.

Opposition to the bill

Former state senators Morgan McGarvey and Paul Hornback introduced similar legislation several times between 2019 and 2022, but they never picked up much steam due to strong opposition.

It remains to be seen whether this time will be different, but Westerfield said that he’s made a few changes to previous bill versions to address Second Amendment concerns.

For example, the previous versions would have allowed for a possibility of a more indefinite seizure of an individual’s firearms, while his does not.

Legislators, gun rights groups and others have already sounded the alarm on Friday’s committee meeting, encouraging Kentuckians to show up in protest.

But Westerfield said that their opposition is based on the false claim that the bill is unconstitutional.

No part of the CARR proceeding would be allowed to be used in a criminal case, he said. It’s an entirely civil process.

Westerfield owns firearms and is a Second Amendment advocate, and doesn’t want firearms taken away unlawfully either, he said.

“But even the Supreme Court of the United States, a conservative Supreme Court of the United States, has said that there are lawful and constitutional limitations on the Second Amendment,” he said.

“And I think given the severity of the death and devastation that we’ve seen from mass shootings, I think it’s incumbent upon us to try to find where those limits are, and create as much safety as we can within the confines of the Second Amendment.”