Commentary

‘Having a conversation is not an act of aggression.’ Especially when lives are at stake.

January 9, 2024 5:40 am

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a press conference in Perry, Iowa, on Jan. 4, 2024, following a school shooting in which a high school student killed a sixth-grader and wounded five others. (Photo courtesy of Douglas Burns/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Advocates for a Safer Kentucky (ASK), a network of citizens wanting a state free from gun tragedies, will gather in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort at 11 a.m. Jan. 11. The event is open to the public.

Kentucky’s 2024 regular session opened with lawmakers insisting leadership consider rules changes to make the legislative process more transparent. Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, was one of those lawmakers, saying, “Proposing rules changes, having a discussion in this body, having a conversation, is not an act of aggression.”

She was right.

And yet this is the same Rep. Maddox who — in anticipation of Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, presenting a bill to address mental health and access to firearms — just a few weeks ago told WHAS TV, “it’s unconscionable that with a supermajority of 111 (Republicans) out of 138 (state legislators) that we’re even having a discussion about gun control legislation.”

Savannah Maddox (Photo by LRC Public Information)

Which is it, Rep. Maddox? Is discussion a core tenet of the legislative process, or no?

On Jan. 2, the General Assembly’s first day in session, I received an email from the NRA, titled “Kentucky: 2024 Legislative Session Convenes Today,” that read in bold red letters “Your NRA will continue to fight to promote and protect your right to keep and bear arms and hunting heritage. Our members remain the most powerful political force in American history, and together, we will secure the Second Amendment for present and future generations.”

Last session, our lawmakers made us a Second Amendment sanctuary. Was this not gift enough for the NRA?

This is the same NRA who, when I was kid in the 1970s, focused on firearm safety, but it has sadly become nothing more than a lobbyist for gun manufacturers to sell more guns. Follow the money.

This is the same NRA whose leader for more than three decades, Wayne LaPierre, resigned last week in the midst of a lawsuit alleging that he and three other NRA officials “violated nonprofit laws and misused millions of dollars of NRA funds to finance lavish lifestyles for themselves.” Again, follow the money.

This is the same NRA that Rep. Maddox pandered to on Dec. 18 when she posted on X (formerly Twitter), in part, “House leadership has indicated to the NRA that the Red Flag proposal will not advance this Session.”

Wayne LaPierre, then-NRA vice president and CEO, greets an NRA annual meeting on April 27, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Why does House leadership need to “indicate” anything to the NRA?

Follow the money, honey, and that powerful NRA mailing list.

Last week, I was driving from Lexington to Lawrenceburg when I heard there had been a school shooting in a small Iowa town. A sixth- grader was shot to death and seven were wounded by a 17-year-old who then turned the gun on himself.

By the time I got home and opened the news app on my phone to see what had happened, this shooting was not even the top story. I had to scroll halfway down the site’s homepage to find it.

Within hours of the Iowa school shooting, LEX18 reported, “Rowan County Sheriff’s Office says that a 12-year-old student was arrested after bringing a handgun to school.” The gun, thankfully, was not loaded but this was, as we have learned the hard way, dumb luck and a toss of the dice.

When Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was asked about the Iowa school shooting she said, “That is why we have literally got to take control of the cancer that is mental health. Everybody talks about it as an issue. We have to deal with it as a cancer.”

Haley is right. Most Republicans talk about it, but rarely does a Republican propose a bill to address mental health, which is exactly what Sen. Westerfield is trying to change. On Dec. 15, he presented the basics of his CARR bill — crisis aversion and rights retention — in the interim judiciary committee. He is expected to file the bill soon. CARR specifically addresses mental health by creating a process for temporarily removing firearms from individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or others.

And isn’t mental health the singular talking point that Republican lawmakers trot out every time there is a shooting?

According to data provided by the Whitney/Strong Organization, the majority of Kentucky gun deaths are suicides. Almost 80 percent of veteran suicides are by firearm. And there is this key fact: “Studies show active shooters experience three to five “mental health stressors” in the lead-up to their acts of violence.

With CARR, Westerfield is courageously offering Kentucky Republicans their moment in the sun, the chance to lead, their easy opportunity to make good on the continued insistence that gun violence is about mental health.

If our lawmakers are serious about addressing mental health — if they, in fact, work for our families and not the NRA — they must be open to discussion about CARR and any other legislation aimed at reducing the number of preventable gun deaths in Kentucky.

As Maddox said herself during the opening week of this regular session, “having a discussion in this body, having a conversation, is not an act of aggression.”

Having this discussion will save lives.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to a shooting Jan. 4, 2024 at Perry High School in Perry, Iowa. (Photo by Brooklyn Draisey)

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Teri Carter
Teri Carter

Teri Carter writes about rural Kentucky life and politics for publications like the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal, The Daily Yonder and The Washington Post. You can find her at TeriCarter.net. 

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