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A Discussion of Gun Laws

Renee Shaw and guests discuss gun laws. Guests: Whitney Austin, mass shooting survivor and gun safety advocate; Rich Zimmer, president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen; Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive; and State Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Fruit Hill), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee (via video call).
Season 30 Episode 15 Length 56:34 Premiere: 06/05/23

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Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw.

For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email to kytonight@ket.org or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 800-494-7605.

After the broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on KET.org and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Panelists Review Legislation Designed to Protect Constitutional Rights and Improve Public Safety

When news of the Old National Bank shooting in Louisville broke the morning of April 10, Whitney Austin watched the coverage in disbelief.

The scenario was all too familiar for Austin. In 2018, as she reported to work at the Fifth Third Bank headquarters in Cincinnati, Austin was struck 12 times in a mass shooting that left four people dead.

Since then, the Louisvillian has devoted her life to finding common sense solutions to gun violence that address the interests of two sides often at odds with each other.

“It’s really important to balance the rights of gun owners but also balance the rights of everyday Americans who want to feel safe in our communities,” says Austin. “We just don’t anymore.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive website, more than 18,000 Americans have died already this year in mass shootings and in suicides and homicides by firearms. That includes the six people killed at the Louisville bank massacre in April.

Mark Bryant, executive director of the archive, says gun violence spiked in 2021 with 21,009 deaths. The tally dipped in 2022, but Bryant says 2023 is on track to set another record.

“We’re seeing more mass shootings, we’re more public shootings, we’re seeing more individual shootings,” says Bryant, “somewhere in the range of 10 to 12 percent more at this point in the year.”

And the “busy season” for gun violence is just arriving, according to Bryant. He says the summer months are especially dangerous because that’s when more people congregate outdoors, socialize, and consume alcohol.

Even some gun rights advocates are concerned by the potential for record levels of firearms-related injuries and deaths this year.

“It’s scary.” says League of Kentucky Sportsmen President Rich Zimmer. “It’s very alarming to why we’re having so much gun violence in the United States and in Kentucky.”

Zimmer attributes the shootings not to the prevalence of firearms, but to insufficient gun safety education as well as a lack of conflict resolution skills and poor mental health among Americans.

But even with the dire prospects for the year ahead, and near daily news of a mass shooting somewhere in the United States, Austin says she remains hopeful.

“With great tragedy comes opportunity for us to come together and to figure out where we are aligned on this issue and where we can make progress,” says Austin. “There are many very positive conversations happening within the state legislature in Frankfort that make me believe that we can see change on this issue.”

Removing Guns from Those Who Pose an Imminent Threat

Austin and her non-profit organization Whitney/Strong have proposed legislation called Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention (CARR). Similar to so-called red flag laws in other states, CARR would create a process whereby a court could order the temporary removal of firearms from the possession of someone deemed to be an imminent threat to themselves or others.

CARR legislation had bipartisan support in the 2022 General Assembly session from then-state Senators Paul Hornback, a Shelbyville Republican, and Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat. (Both have since left the legislature.)

While that proposal stalled, current Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Whitney Westerfield (R-Fruit Hill) says he is working on an updated CARR bill that would address due process concerns voiced by gun rights advocates. Under existing CARR language, the person facing a potential temporary removal of their guns doesn’t have a voice in the court proceeding to determine if he or she is an imminent danger.

“I am in favor of making sure that we can take care of those people and remove those weapons if they are in danger,” says Zimmer, “but we need to have a good due process to make sure that person is able to represent themselves or have somebody represent (them).”

Such ex parte hearings, explains Westerfield, preclude an individual from explaining why he or she is not a risk, or mounting a defense against a potentially fraudulent claim by friend or family member who wants the weapons removed. On the other hand, Westerfield says if a person knows they may be about to lose their guns, that could incite them to take some dangerous action.

“That’s the argument that’s going back and forth, and trying to find something in the middle, there is the difficulty from a constitutional perspective,” says Westerfield. “I’d like to think that we could come up with something that meets in the middle.”

“You’ve got a lot of lawmakers in both parties,” he adds, “who have an interest in finding some sort of middle ground here and that’s where good policy can be born.”

Austin, who is a gun owner, says she’s happy to discuss changes to CARR as long as they protect vulnerable individuals. She says the legislation is meant to prevent more than just mass shootings. The majority of gun deaths in Kentucky, according to Austin, are from suicides by firearms. A disproportionate number of those deaths are in rural areas, she says.

“We’ve got to make sure that wherever we land,” says Austin, “it’s actually going to protect gun owners that are in a crisis moment.”

If state lawmakers did pass CARR, Austin says Kentuckians will need to know how to use it. She says the Safer Communities Act passed by Congress last year includes funding for such public education campaigns. She says Kentucky already has those federal dollars just waiting to be used.

Another challenge with CARR and red flag laws in general is the speed with which the courts and law enforcement can act to remove firearms from someone’s possession when deemed warranted. For example, Bryant says a red flag law in Utah failed to protect a family of seven who died in a murder-suicide incident in January.

“We’ve got to be able to move on this,” says Bryant. “We can’t hide behind the Second Amendment.”

Other Gun Safety Options

Even before the Old National Bank shooting, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, a Democrat, called on state legislators to change the law that allows weapons confiscated by law enforcement to be sold at public auctions administered by the Kentucky State Police.

“Forcing Louisville Metro Government to turn [a gun] over knowing there is a good chance it ends up back on our streets doesn’t make public safety sense,” Greenberg said in February.

Westerfield, who plans to retire from the General Assembly at the end of his current term, says such a change to state law is a “no brainer” and should be an “easy thing to pass.” But Zimmer says law enforcement agencies depend on proceeds from confiscated weapons auctions to pay for equipment purchases and other functions. For example, he says the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife uses auction proceeds to support educational programs and habitat restoration.

“Those funds are being reused for positive purposes,” says Zimmer.

Westerfield says a firearm taken from someone hunting without a permit is very different than a gun used in a homicide. He says there should be consensus against auctioning weapons tied to a murder or a suicide. As for law enforcement needing proceeds from weapons auctions, he says the legislature should provide that.

“If it’s for training, if it’s for equipment and they’re a state agency, why in the world aren’t we funding that in the first place?” says Westerfield.

When the General Assembly convenes in January, legislators could also revisit proposals to require the safe storage of firearms to prevent them from being accessed by children or stolen by criminals. Westerfield says there are already penalties on the books for the reckless use of an improperly stored weapon, but he adds that he’s not sure how strongly that’s actually enforced. He also says while safe storage is important, lawmakers also don’t want to impede a gun owner’s ability to quickly protect themselves or their homes.

Improper firearm storage also extends to vehicles as well.

“People keep them in their car, they don’t lock their car, their guns get stolen, the guns end up in Baltimore, in New York, in Chicago, and people die because nobody’s willing to properly store their guns,” says Bryant.

Beyond any potential new laws, Austin says that responsible gun owners should encourage safe storage among those who are reckless with their firearms.

“There are irresponsible gun owners among us,” says Austin, “and none of us are safe because they are our weakest link,” says Austin.

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Season 30 Episodes

Reviewing the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E44 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/15/24

Final Negotiations on the State Budget

S30 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/25/24

School Safety

S30 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/11/24

Early Childhood Education

S30 E41 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/26/24

Abortion Legislation

S30 E40 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/19/24

School Choice and Education Issues

S30 E39 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/12/24

State Budget Discussion

S30 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/05/24

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Higher Education

S30 E37 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/29/24

Safer Kentucky Act

S30 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/22/24

Legislative Priorities in the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E35 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/08/24

Governor Andy Beshear's Budget Address

S30 E34 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 12/18/23

2024 Legislative Preview: Part Two

S30 E33 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 12/04/23

2024 Legislative Preview

S30 E32 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 11/20/23

Analysts Discuss What to Expect on Election Day 2023

S30 E31 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/06/23

Candidate Conversations: Lieutenant Governor

S30 E30 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/30/23

Candidate Conversations: Governor

S30 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/23/23

Political Analysts Forecast the 2023 General Election

S30 E28 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/17/23

Secretary of State; Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E27 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/09/23

Auditor of Public Accounts; State Treasurer

S30 E26 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/02/23

Kentucky's Economy, Jobs and Taxes

S30 E25 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/25/23

Higher Education in Kentucky

S30 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/18/23

Kentucky's Health Care Challenges

S30 E23 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/11/23

Education Issues in Kentucky

S30 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/21/23

Fancy Farm Preview and Kentucky Politics

S30 E21 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/31/23

Kentucky's Energy Needs

S30 E20 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/17/23

Artificial Intelligence

S30 E19 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/10/23

Jobs, Inflation and the Economy

S30 E18 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/26/23

SB 150 and LGBTQ Issues

S30 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/19/23

Horse Racing Safety

S30 E16 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 06/12/23

A Discussion of Gun Laws

S30 E15 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/05/23

Recapping The 2023 Kentucky Primary

S30 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/22/23

2023 Primary Election Preview

S30 E13 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/15/23

Republican Candidate for Secretary of State

S30 E12 Length 15:00 Premiere Date 05/08/23

Republican Candidates for Governor

S30 E11 Length 1:29:20 Premiere Date 05/01/23

Candidates for Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E10 Length 1:15:06 Premiere Date 04/24/23

Challenges Facing Kentucky Schools

S30 E9 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/17/23

Policy Analysts Recap the 2023 General Assembly

S30 E8 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/10/23

Recap of the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E7 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/03/23

Kentucky Legislation on LGBTQ+ Youth

S30 E6 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/20/23

Student Discipline Legislation

S30 E5 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/13/23

Gambling Proposals in the Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/27/23

Kentucky's Teacher Shortage

S30 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/20/23

Exploring Local Government Issues

S30 E2 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 02/13/23

Child Abuse and Neglect in Kentucky

S30 E1 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/06/23

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