Black Legislative Caucus calls on Kentucky Republicans to tackle ‘epidemic of gun violence’

By: - April 17, 2023 4:33 pm

Reps. Beverly Chester-Burton, D-Louisville, and George Brown, D-Lexington, listen as Senate Democratic Floor Leader Gerald Neal of Louisville urges Kentucky’s legislature to enact gun safety laws. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

Members of Kentucky’s Black Legislative Caucus on Monday implored their colleagues in the General Assembly to address what Rep. George Brown called “an epidemic of gun violence.” 

On the heels of mass shootings in Louisville and Nashville, caucus chair Brown, D-Lexington, said, “We call on our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to help us do the right thing.”

Brown and others spoke at a morning news conference at the Capitol in which they expressed support for the “Tennessee Three,” lawmakers who led protests on the Tennessee House floor demanding gun reforms after three children and three adults were gunned down at a school in Nashville. Two of the three Democrats, both Black men, were expelled from the legislature by the Republican majority but restored to their seats by their local governments. 

From left, Democratic Reps. Keturah Herron, Beverly Chester-Burton, George Brown, Sen. Gerald Neal, Reps. Derrick Graham and Sarah Stalker. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

Brown said Black legislative caucus members from around the country will be in Tennessee Tuesday for demonstrations of support in Nashville and Knoxville for the expelled lawmakers. “We are standing with our fellow state legislators …  and share their sentiment in the need to pass comprehensive gun control legislation in our states.”

Kentucky Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said the move in Tennessee to muffle elected Black representatives was a blow to democracy and that their “suppression” is intertwined with the politics of gun safety. “Extreme power” demands “extreme responsibility,” Neal said.

Neal also expressed optimism that Republican lawmakers in Kentucky will sit down for an “honest and factual” discussion of ideas and “proven methodologies” for stemming the gun-related bloodshed that Neal says is killing urban and rural Kentuckians alike.

“Gun violence is a scourge we must address. We must have open and honest discussion about gun violence. All this ideological stuff, all this strategic stuff in trying to exert power in one way or another is not sufficient because people are literally dying in our communities each and every day,” Neal said. “The first responsibility of government is to protect the safety of its citizenry. To the extent we do not do all we can to protect life we have failed in our responsibility.”

House Minority Leader Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, spoke in favor of a “red flag” law allowing judges to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. Graham said 19 states, including Indiana and Florida, have enacted such laws and that judges in Florida have used the law 8,000 times in recent years to remove guns from people considered dangerous. 

Graham likened a “red flag” law’s constitutionality to preventive measures enacted by Kentucky’s legislature, including “Casey’s Law” in 2004, which allows intervention to help someone suffering from addiction and “Tim’s Law” in 2017, protecting people suffering from mental illness. Such a law would be “one more tool to stop gun violence,” Graham said.

Brown said he has introduced bills in recent sessions limiting assault weapons and ammunition and strengthening background checks on gun buyers but they were never even assigned to a committee.

Brown called on lawmakers to immediately address the now-required sale of firearms confiscated by police in Kentucky. He said guns used “to kill people and violate people’s rights”  do not “need to be put back on the street.”

The lawmakers did not call for a special session of the legislature, however. Only a governor can call lawmakers into special session.

They said they plan to seek discussions with Republican leaders of Kentucky’s legislative supermajority, who have remained silent in response to calls for action after two mass shootings in Louisville in one week. Five victims were killed April 10 at a downtown bank by an employee wielding an AR-15 rifle, who was killed by police. On Saturday two people were killed and four injured when gunfire erupted in Louisville’s crowded Chickasaw Park.

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Jamie Lucke
Jamie Lucke

Jamie Lucke has more than 40 years of experience as a journalist. Her editorials for the Lexington Herald-Leader won Walker Stone, Sigma Delta Chi and Green Eyeshade awards. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.