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Op-Ed: Ky. Should Adopt Common Sense Gun Legislation

The following op-ed is written by State Representative George Brown, Jr., (D-Lexington) and State Senator Gerald Neal (D-Louisville).

Our nation has always loved its guns, but 2008 was a particularly special year in that relationship.  That’s when studies show we finally had one for each citizen, more than 300 million altogether.

Like people who cannot bear to be apart, however, that wasn’t enough.  Less than a decade later, we had almost 70 million more guns that people.  To put that in perspective, a country that has just four percent of the world’s population now owns nearly half of its civilian firearms.

We weren’t through, though, not by a literal long shot.  Our commitment rose to a new level in 2020, when a life-altering pandemic drove a gun-buying spree unlike any other. 

According to 24/7 Wall Street, we purchased almost 40 million guns in 2020, which was 40 percent more than we had bought just a year earlier.  In the not-too-distant future, we’ll undoubtedly have two for every American, one handgun for each hand.

There is little common ground about whether this trend is good news or bad – we certainly are not fans – but our focus today is less about what these numbers say about us and more about something that should unite us all: Making sure these hundreds of millions of weapons are securely stored.

Nearly every week, it seems, we hear stories about children dying or becoming seriously injured because they found and fired an unattended gun.  Accidental shootings and suicides bring those numbers nationally into the thousands each and every year.

We and many of our fellow House and Senate members have sponsored legislation designed to make these tragedies far less common here in the commonwealth.  We do not believe it is too much to ask parents and others to keep their guns beyond the reach of those who shouldn’t have them or to at least have gun locks in place.

We named the legislation – this year’s Senate Bill 46 and House Bill 80 – the “Baby Dre Gun Safety Act,” in honor of an eight-year-old who was killed in 2016 after being shot when someone carelessly handling a gun dropped it, causing it to fire.

Dre was the grandson of Luther Brown, Jr., who by that time had already spent a decade as arguably Kentucky’s biggest gun-safety advocate.  It is a cruel irony that what he sought to stop happened to a loved one of his, but the tragedy deepened his resolve to keep this unspeakable act from taking away another innocent life.

We were proud to partner with Luther in our work at the Capitol as well as across the commonwealth, and we were deeply saddened when he passed away in April at the too-young age of 61.

We are committed, however, to making sure his legacy never dims.  He set the bar high, creating not one but two organizations dedicated to gun safety – Board4Change and Little Hands, Little Feet – and he never hesitated to travel wherever and whenever he was needed to hand out gun locks and to promote gun safety.  Only God knows how many lives he may have saved, but the number has to be considerable.

Next year the Kentucky legislature will have the opportunity to pass this critical and commonsense legislation, and it is notable that renewed efforts are being undertaken to address this continuing threat.

In December, for example, the Whitney/Strong and Project ChildSafe programs donated more than 2,000 free gun locks for 10 police departments to distribute around Kentucky.

In the last several years, meanwhile, Congress has lifted an effective 25-year moratorium on federal research into gun violence.  In late 2019, it actually budgeted $25 million for this work.  The amount is exceedingly small when compared to the money going toward curing diseases and reducing traffic fatalities, but it nonetheless is a welcome start that hopefully will expand in the future.

We are under no illusion that our country’s love affair with guns will change anytime soon.  But as their numbers continue their ever-upward trend, we believe it is imperative that gun locks and safes and greater public awareness of gun safety at least grow with them.

No family should have to endure what happened to Baby Dre and so many others.  And we should all be as committed as Luther was to turn that dream into reality.  He may no longer be with us, but the passion he brought to the cause will continue making a profound impact for generations to come.

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