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Kentucky has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the US

<i>Aaron Bernstein/Reuters/File</i><br/>Guns are seen on display in trade booths during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Louisville
Aaron Bernstein/Reuters/File
Guns are seen on display in trade booths during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Louisville

Josh Campbell, Jack Hannah & Elizabeth Joseph

A 25-year-old man in Kentucky legally purchased an AR-15-style rifle at a local gun dealership. Six days later he used that weapon to kill five of his colleagues at a downtown bank, Louisville Metro Police said Tuesday.

Kentucky has some of the least restrictive state gun laws in the nation. Gun enthusiasts have described it as “one of the most gun-friendly states east of the Mississippi.” By contrast, gun violence prevention groups like Everytown have billed the state’s laws as “among the worst in the country.”

Kentucky is home to some of the highest firearm death rates in the country, the latest statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. Experts attribute gun violence across the state to relaxed laws in obtaining firearms and the absence of any training requirements to handle a legally purchased gun.

“Universal background checks are nonexistent, so you can buy a gun from a stranger and there’s no record of the sale, making it almost impossible for law enforcement to trace these weapons if they’re ever used in a crime,” CNN contributor Jennifer Mascia, founding staffer at The Trace, a nonprofit outlet focused exclusively on gun violence, said.

“Red flag” laws, found in more than a dozen states across the US, allow courts to temporarily revoke firearm ownership by anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others. They too are nonexistent in Kentucky, Mascia pointed out.

If the Louisville mass shooter’s behavior “had aroused suspicion among family members, it would have possibly resulted in him being disarmed or at least a visit from law enforcement, which could have derailed his plans,” she said.

Prior to 2019 — when Kentucky allowed firearms to be carried without a concealed carry permit — individuals had to prove they knew how to fire a gun. “They actually had to pass a shooting test. So, you went to a shooting range and you had to make 11 out of 20 shots on a target in front of an instructor,” Mascia said. The state eliminated the requirement when permitless carry was adopted, making anyone eligible over the age of 21 able to lawfully possess a firearm to conceal their deadly weapon in public without officially demonstrating they know how to use it.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, there’s no waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and its physical transfer to the buyer in Kentucky, whereas some states require a waiting period ranging anywhere from 72 hours to 14 days before the weapon is handed over.

Gun deaths across Kentucky in 2021 were 25% greater than in 2018, the year before permitless carry was allowed in the state, Mascia, said, adding gun homicides during the same time period were up 75%, which she said bucks the idea advanced by gun proponents that the best solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

While federal and state law prohibits convicted felons from gun possession, in Kentucky, domestic abusers on restraining orders, stalkers, fugitives, individuals convicted of hate crimes, and people found to be a danger to themselves or others all have legal access to guns, according to Everytown.

In an emotionally charged press conference Tuesday, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, US Representative Morgan McGarvey and University of Louisville Health Chief Medical Officer Jason Smith called for city, state and federal assistance in addressing gun violence.

“The laws we have now are enabling violence and murder,” the mayor said, and slammed a state law that requires law enforcement to put seized firearms up for auction to federally licensed firearms dealers holding a license appropriate for the type of firearm sold. Under Kentucky law, certain confiscated guns that are not retained for official use “shall be sold at public auction,” with partial proceeds going to public safety programs.

“Think about that: that murder weapon will be back on the streets one day,” Greenberg said. “It’s time to change this law and let us destroy illegal guns and destroy the guns that have been used to kill our friends and kill our neighbors.”

“We have to take action now. We need short term action to end this gun violence epidemic now, so fewer people die on our streets and in our banks in our schools,” the mayor added. “I don’t care about finger pointing. I don’t care about blame. I don’t care about politics. I’m only interested in working together with our state legislators to take meaningful action to save lives to prevent more tragic injuries, and more death.”

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