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Kentucky lawmakers promote gun safety legislation

Posted at 7:33 PM, Aug 08, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Months after Kentucky relaxed its gun laws, some lawmakers want to shift the focus to a proposal meant to keep guns away from people deemed as threats to themselves or others.

The bipartisan proposal, still being crafted for next year, was touted by a trio of state senators Thursday as a way to bolster public safety. It would allow courts to issue temporary orders barring someone from possessing guns based on some showing of imminent danger.

"It's about time that we start to have this conversation," Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams told reporters. "And I think we can have this conversation and really have a strong due-process component attached to this bill so that everyone feels protected."

Adams, the Senate's GOP caucus chair, was joined by Republican Sen. Paul Hornback and Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey in promoting the proposal. McGarvey is the top-ranking Senate Democrat. He and Adams are from Louisville, while Hornback is from Shelbyville.

Work on the proposal has spanned more than a year, they said. Supporters plan to offer a draft proposal for review at an interim legislative committee meeting in late November.

Hornback, who described himself as a strong gun-rights supporter, said: "This is not about taking guns. This is about protection for people."

Their public pitch comes days after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio left 31 people dead.

"We felt that what happened this past weekend, it is important to let people know that in Kentucky we are working on this, and we're working on it in the right way," McGarvey said.

A few months ago, Kentucky's GOP-dominated legislature passed a bill allowing people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or training. It underscored that pro-gun advocates remain a powerful force in Kentucky.

The National Rifle Association withheld comment on the emerging proposal, saying Thursday it needed to see the actual legislation. NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said that to safeguard the rights of law-abiding gun owners, such extreme risk protection orders "at a minimum must include strong due-process protections, require treatment and include penalties against those who make frivolous claims."

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's spokeswoman said in a statement that he'll look at how the new proposal would relate to public safety and constitutional rights.

"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," Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who's challenging Bevin in this year's gubernatorial election, supports "red flag" laws that allow courts to intervene and stop someone "determined to be an imminent threat," said his campaign spokesman, Sam Newton. Beshear also believes such laws should protect domestic violence victims.

At least 17 states have "red flag" laws to take guns away from people believed to be dangers to themselves or others. Many of them were approved since the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

The trio of Kentucky lawmakers said Thursday that their proposal will balance public safety with due-process protections. Adams said it needs to be "crystal clear" in laying out the process of issuing extreme risk protection orders.

"This is not taking people's guns away without a due process," McGarvey said. "This is temporarily removing people we think have mental health problems or who have displayed violent, disturbing behavior ... from access to firearms."

Someone losing such access would be back before a judge within two weeks for another hearing, he said. Most laws in other states stipulate that only specific people may petition a court for an extreme risk protection order.

While work on the Kentucky bill continues, McGarvey suggested family members, mental health professionals and law enforcement could be authorized to petition the courts. Hornback said the bill should include penalties for falsely accusing someone.

Laws in effect for years have been effective in decreasing suicide rates, Adams said. Also in those states, "you haven't heard any mass uproars about people taking guns," Hornback added.

McGarvey said there's no "100% effective cure" for gun violence.

"But that doesn't mean we shouldn't act," he said. "If this prevents one person from committing suicide, this prevents one person from ... causing a mass shooting, and it doesn't trample on people's rights, isn't it worth doing? We think it is."