Politics & Government

Proposed law would let family raise a ‘red flag’ to take guns from person in crisis

Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville speaks up for ‘red flag’ legislation in Kentucky with Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville and Louisville Metro Police Department Lt. Col. LaVita Chavous at a Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, news conference in the Capitol Annex in Frankfort.
Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville speaks up for ‘red flag’ legislation in Kentucky with Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville and Louisville Metro Police Department Lt. Col. LaVita Chavous at a Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, news conference in the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Three Kentucky state senators — two Republicans and one Democrat — want to give police or family members the right to ask a judge to temporarily remove a gun from a potentially dangerous person.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville joined Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville and Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, at a news conference to say they will present legislation to the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly that would create extreme risk protection orders. They also are known as “red flag” laws.

Such laws temporarily prevent someone in crisis from buying or possessing a gun.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump called for expansion of such laws in the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, but U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said this week the laws are a weak response to curbing gun violence.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, this year’s Democratic nominee for governor, supports the legislation. Bevin has not expressed an opinion on the issue.

Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who is seeking re-election, said Bevin has not yet seen details of the senators’ specific proposal.

“He will thoughtfully review the details of the proposal, as it relates to both public safety and our nation’s Constitution,” she said. “Any firearm restrictions should be designed to keep weapons away from those who pose a danger to themselves and others, but should never infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Seventeen states have enacted laws that allow a court to intervene when someone shows warning signs of impending violence.

Democrats in the Kentucky House and Senate earlier this year proposed similar legislation but the bills died in committee without getting a vote.

The laws vary in different states. In Indiana, only police can request a court to remove weapons. In Oregon, any person living with the person they are concerned about can ask the court to act.

McGarvey, Adams and Hornback said they are working on a draft of a bill to present lawmakers in January.

They haven’t finalized details, such as who could petition the court to remove a gun from a dangerous person, but said it likely would include police, close family members and mental health professionals. They said they are open to also considering teachers.

“Doing nothing is not an answer,” McGarvey said, noting that their proposal is bipartisan and represents urban and rural lawmakers.

Hornback, a farmer who described himself as an avid hunter and defender of gun rights, said the proposal is not gun control.

“It’s public safety,” he said.

Hornback added that lawmakers were discussing the measure before last weekend’s mass shootings.

Adams said the law has helped decrease suicides in other states.

The lawmakers said the legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee will discuss the legislation Nov. 22.

They also said records of reports to judges would be public — like emergency protective orders — and that the legislation would carry a penalty for people who falsely report a dangerous person.

Also participating in the news conference was Louisville Metro Police Department’s Lt. Col. LaVita Chavous, who said the proposal has the backing of LMPD.

McGarvey said the National Rifle Association has had varying opinions of the law, depending on how each is written.

An NRA “fact sheet” said the organization will only support legislation that strongly protects both Second Amendment rights and due process rights at the same time

McGarvey also said “the fingerprints” of Whitney Austin, a Louisville resident who was shot 12 times last September in the mass shooting at the Fifth Third Bank headquarters in downtown Cincinnati, “are all over what we are doing.”

Austin has started a non-profit, WhitneyStrong, to try to keep guns from dangerous people and those who should not have them.

She released a video this week saying her group will work in Kentucky for a red flag law.

This story will be updated.

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