On Tuesday, a bill that would make Kentucky a Second Amendment sanctuary passed the House Veterans, Military, and Public Protection Committee.
It isn’t the only pro-Second Amendment bill filed so far during the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly legislative session.
Filed by Rep. Josh Bray (R-Mount Vernon), House Bill 153 is a duplicate bill filed last year that would essentially prevent a federal ban on firearms — were it to happen — from applying in Kentucky.
A new aspect of the bill would prevent civil liabilities if somebody violated the federal ban.
“In short, what it does is it prohibits local law enforcement from using tax dollars to implement a federal firearms and ammunition ban,” Bray said, noting that it’s even more pertinent this year because of the ATF’s recent ban on pistol braces.
Taking effect on Jan. 31, the new rule bans pistol braces. Previously, guns with 16-inch barrels or less with a stabilizing brace were considered pistols. Under the new rule, those guns are classified as short-barreled rifles that require a license.
Bray disagreed with the definition.
“It’s a firearm accessory that might help somebody with a disability shoot a pistol if they don’t have a lot of hand stability,” Bray said.
The braces were allowed under Barrack Obama’s and Donald Trump’s administrations, according to Bray. That has changed under the Biden administration.
“What the ATF has decided is that you can either register your firearm, or you can destroy it, or … it’s a felony,” Bray said. “…I know a bunch of people have contacted me about this, and you know, I think it’s important that we can give Kentuckians peace of mind that the sheriff’s department or the city police isn’t just going to roll up and start enforcing this.”
The bill died in the Senate last year, but Bray thinks it’s a matter of timing. He said the bill’s chances are strong this year, as it didn’t pass the House until Day 45 of 60 in a 2022 hectic budget year.
“There’s a similar piece of legislation in the Senate that looks like it may be moving this year as well,” Bray said.
Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Tichenor (R-Smithfield) has similar language to Bray’s bill.
One of the issues raised last year in the House VMAPP committee came from Rep. Patti Minter (D-Bowling Green), who said the bill could tie the hands of local law enforcement officials trying to work with federal officials.
“Many of our local law enforcement groups or state law enforcement willingly collaborate with federal officials,” Minter said last year. “For example, people who work with the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) as task force officers that are leant by the local community to work on violent crime issues … my reading of this bill is it’s going to prevent local enforcement or state law enforcement from collaborating with federal authorities.”
Minter lost to Rep. Kevin Jackson (R-Bowling Green), so she is no longer on the committee.
Bray thinks that line of thinking is a non-issue, especially in this year’s legislative session.
“I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, just to be honest,” Bray said, that neighboring states such as West Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri all have similar laws.
In Kentucky, 115 out of 120 counties already have Second Amendment sanctuaries.
While the Rockcastle County legislator thinks HB153’s chances to pass are more likely, this isn’t the only gun bill potentially moving through the Kentucky legislature this year.
Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge) filed two bills this session — one will lower the concealed carry age from 21 to 18 (HB118) and another that will get rid of gun-free zones (HB138) — a similar bill has been filed in the Senate by Adrienne Southworth (R-Anderson).
HB118 is also co-sponsored by freshman NKY legislator Rep. Marianne Proctor (R-Union).
Maddox also filed House Bill 159 — the Kentucky 2nd Amendment Preservation Act.
Maddox noted that a “myriad” of gun bills have passed out of the House only to die in the Senate.
“I had a 2nd amendment bill — the firearm industry non-discrimination act — that passed out of the House pretty easily and died in the Senate,” Maddox said.
Maddox also filed the bills last year, and she thinks both bills have more relevance in light of the Feb. 13 shooting at the University of Michigan, where she said law-abiding were unable to defend themselves.
“I think abolishing the so-called gun-free zone should be at the very top of the priorities of a Republican super majority,” Maddox said. Republicans control the House 80-20 and the Senate 31-7.
A couple of bills also seek to regulate firearms — both filed by Democrats.
Sponsored by Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville), House Bill 79 would allow the “Kentucky State Police to establish the Kentucky Voluntary Do Not Sell Firearms List to prohibit the possession, sale, or transfer of firearms to individuals who voluntarily request to be added to the list.”
This bill applies more to those trying to prevent self-harm.
“Tragically, the suicide rate in Kentucky is much higher than the national average, which itself has grown by a third since 1999,” Willner said. “The COVID pandemic dramatically increased risk factors associated with suicide. We need to address this tragic but preventable crisis with a sense of urgency. My bill would give Kentuckians struggling with suicidal thoughts the right to add a self-imposed barrier that could make all of the difference during an extremely difficult moment in their lives.”
Another bill —Senate Bill 84 — would “Create a new section of KRS Chapter 65 to allow urban-county governments and consolidated local governments to regulate firearms and ammunition to reduce gun violence except when state or federal law preempts local governance.”
That bill is sponsored by Sen. Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington).
Last session, a bipartisan piece of legislation called C.A.R.R. — Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention — failed to get a committee hearing.
Sponsored by former Sens. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) and Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), C.A.R.R. would have allowed firearm owners to voluntarily give their firearms over to law enforcement during a crisis. The guns would then be returned.
The bill idea came from Whitney Austin’s Whitney/Strong Foundation, which focuses on responsible gun ownership and ending gun violence. Austin survived the 2018 mass shooting at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati and has pushed the legislation in the Kentucky legislature.
McGarvey moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Sen. Hornback retired, so it’s unclear if that legislation will be reintroduced. However, Austin was in the gallery of the House of Representatives the first week of February.
In the fall, another Louisville legislator proposed the idea of creating the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Kentucky Department for Public Health to the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity.
Rep. Keturah Herron (D-Louisville) said she would introduce a bill to create the department in the 2023 session.
“The office will also collect and disseminate data and make recommendations related to gun violence policy and community-based gun violence intervention and prevention programs,” Herron said at the time, elaborating that the office would be similar to the Office of Drug Control Policy.
Herron told the commission she has seen the impact of gun violence first-hand.
“I know that when you say ‘gun violence,’ people get scared, they think that you’re talking about taking guns away,” Herron said. “For the record, I do fully support the Second Amendment, and I am a legal gun owner.”