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Mass Shootings and Gun Laws

Host Renee Shaw and guests discuss mass shootings and the policy ideas in Washington addressing gun violence. Guests: Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive; Edwin Nighbert, president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen; Whitney Austin, executive director and co-founder of Whitney/Strong; and David Burnett, attorney, ICU nurse and firearms advocate.
Season 28 Episode 13 Length 56:33 Premiere: 04/26/21


Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis on 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. Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form.
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.

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Renee Shaw is Moderator and Director of Public Affairs for Kentucky Educational Television, currently serving as host of KET’s Kentucky Tonight, Connections, election coverage, Legislative Update and KET Forums.

Since joining KET in 1997, Shaw has produced numerous KET public affairs series and specials, including KET’s nationally recognized legislative coverage. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, town hall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

As an award-winning journalist, Shaw has earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, earning two regional Emmy awards, and an award from the Kentucky Associated Press for political coverage of the state legislature. She was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2017. 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; earned the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform in 2014; and, in 2015, received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.  

In 2018, KET earned a national media award from Mental Health America for its multi-dimensional content on the opioid epidemic shepherded by Shaw. That same year, she co-produced and moderated a six-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. In 2019, Shaw was recognized by The Kentucky Gazette as one of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government. In addition, Renee was awarded the Charles W. Anderson Laureate Award by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues.

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

Advocates from Opposing Sides Debate a Contentious Social Issue

Even with the nation shut down and people staying home for much of last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings in America continued at a record pace.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a Lexington-based website that tracks a range of criminal, accidental, defensive, and suicidal shootings nationwide, they year 2020 saw 610 mass shootings in which four or more people were wounded or killed. That total far exceeds the six previous years for which the archive has tracked such data.

For this year, the archive reports 169 mass shootings as of April 30, a pace of more than one a day. That number includes the April 15 shooting at a Federal Express facility in Indianapolis that killed 9 people and injured seven, as well as a Jan. 22 incident at a Covington, Ky., bar that left five people wounded.

“We believe that it’s important to look at entire picture and then let people draw their conclusions from that,” says Mark Bryant of the Gun Violence Archive, who is a gunowner himself. “Our number also ensures that you look at those that are injured.”

A Survivor Turns Advocate

Louisvillian Whitney Austin is a mass shooting survivor. The former Fifth Third Bank executive was walking into the company’s building in downtown Cincinnati on Sept. 6, 2018, when a gunman opened fire in the lobby.

“I was shot 12 times and not once did a bullet hit a major organ or artery,” says Austin. “I am a miracle.”

But four people did die that morning, including the shooter. The incident proved a turning point in Austin’s life. She left her banking job to cofound with her husband the non-profit organization Whitney/Strong to advocate for responsible firearm ownership and help prevent other people from being victims of gun violence. Austin says she won’t accept a fatalistic attitude that says nothing can be done to curb deaths and injuries by firearms in the United States.

“There is absolutely something we can do at the legislative level that won’t be burdensome on gunowners but will help reduce the levels of gun violence in this state,” she says.

For months Austin worked with Democrats and Republicans as well as those who own guns and those who don’t to develop a solution she calls crisis aversion and rights retention (CARR) orders. That’s a judicial process by which firearms would be temporarily removed from a gun owner in the throes of a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Austin says that individual would then receive the counseling or treatment they need.

“We don’t want people permanently separated from their firearm,” she says. “We want to get them help so they can get back to their firearm in a place in which it is safe.”

Beyond averting mass shootings, Austin says her proposal could save the lives of gun owners.

“Two out of three gun deaths are attributed to suicide,” she says, “and people don’t know that that disproportionately impacts older white males in the state of Kentucky.”

Austin’s proposal gained the bipartisan support of state Senators Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) and Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville), who sponsored it as Senate Bill 229 in the 2021 General Assembly session. The legislation never made it out of committee.

A Question of Due-Process Rights

The CARR proposal is similar to extreme risk protective orders and so-called red flag laws to confiscate weapons from a gun owner deemed to be as risk of harming themselves or others. Austin says 20 states already have such measures, including Indiana and Illinois.

Critics contend these measures violate the rights of gun owners.

“You cannot have a right revoked without due process,” says David Burnett, a registered nurse, attorney, and firearms advocate in Lexington. “I’m very concerned that that process wouldn’t comply with 5th and 14th Amendments,” to the U.S. Constitution.

Although he’s treated shooting victims in intensive care, Burnett says ideas like CARR and red flag laws are too broad, and the criteria for having a firearm confiscated too vague.

“We shouldn’t have a solution that creates more harm than it purports to solve,” says Burnett. “Any law that would restrict the ownership of firearms, or the possession of firearms, or the acquisition of firearms has the capacity to do more damage than it does harm.”

Beyond due process issues, Burnett argues that emergency confiscation orders don’t always stop the shootings they are designed to prevent. For example, he says the shooter at the Federal Express facility in Indianapolis did have a gun seized by police, yet he was still able to purchase another weapon because of what Burnett describes as a deficiency in Indiana’s red flag process. Plus he says people who already have a felony conviction or an emergency protective order against them can’t legally own guns.

Austin says courts have consistently upheld red flag laws in the states that have them, and that any such proposal must have a high burden of proof to justify confiscating a firearm from a gun owner.

Strengthening the Background Check System

In his speech before Congress on April 28, President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to curb what he calls the epidemic of gun violence in America by reinstating a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and by strengthening background checks on gun buyers.

But even those actions, which polling indicates have broad public support, concern some gun owners.

“Any attempt to subvert or circumvent the 2nd Amendment is wrong,” says Edwin Nighbert, president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen, which is the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association. “I think that we’ve restricted it way too much at this point in time.”

He contends the problem is not guns, but the people who use them. He says we need to better understand the societal issues that lead to gun violence. He also argues that since existing gun laws are not properly enforced, there’s no accurate data about the effectiveness of those regulations.

Nighbert faults red flag laws for setting up a situation where it’s one person’s word against the gunowner, and he says judges usually take the side of the potential victim. As for background checks, he says the existing system worked well until being swamped in recent years by a spike in guns sales. Now, he says the FBI is only able to do human-based processing of about half of the firearms transaction applications submitted to the agency.

Burnett says the problem with background checks is that people with criminal intent avoid them by making black-market purchases or by stealing weapons. He also fears that the law enforcement agencies conducting the checks might erroneously deny a gun sale to a law-abiding citizen who should be able to protect themselves.

“At the end of the day, when that system breaks down, as inevitably systems do, I don’t want to be left empty handed and having to play dead or hoping that the shooter is a bad shot,” says Burnett.

Austin says the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) operated by the FBI should be better funded and that the checks should be required for all gun purchases.

Mark Bryant of the Gun Violence Archive agrees that the background check system isn’t perfect. He says lawmakers should close a loophole that allows a gun sale to be proceed if the background check is not completed within three business days. They can also crack down on cash sales of guns at swap meets by sellers who aren’t federally licensed, or straw buyers who purchase a gun for someone who may be unable to legally own one.

As for the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was written in the 18th century, Bryant says it’s time to update it to reflect 21st century realities.

“The 2nd amendment is not sacrosanct to where it cannot be changed,” he says.

Nighbert says the amendment was written to give Americans the ability to overthrow a tyrannical government, a situation he contends can exist today as much as it did in the 1700s. As a self-described expert marksman who owns “an arsenal of weapons,” Nighbert says he’s never had to pull a gun on another person. But he also says he wants to be prepared if martial law is declared.

“If there’s a compromise to be made that does not affect us and trade our rights for a little bit of freedom, then I’m for it,” says Nighbert. “But we do not and you cannot legislate morality.”

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City and County Issues

S28 E38 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 12/13/21

Compensating College Athletes: Name, Image and Likeness

S28 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/22/21

Trends in State and National Politics

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School Choice in the Commonwealth

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Historical Horse Racing: A Growing Pastime in Kentucky

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New Developments and the Unknowns of COVID-19

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COVID and the Classroom

S28 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/27/21

Remembering 9/11, 20 Years Later

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Kentucky's Response to COVID-19

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Discussing the Surge of COVID-19 Cases in Kentucky

S28 E26 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 08/23/21

Fancy Farm Preview and State Politics

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Back-To-School Issues in Kentucky

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Childcare Challenges

S28 E23 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/19/21

The Urban-Rural Divide in Kentucky

S28 E22 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 07/12/21

Work Shifts: Kentucky's Labor Shortage and Hiring Challenges

S28 E21 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/28/21

Public Infrastructure: What Kentucky Needs

S28 E19 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/21/21

Debating Critical Race Theory

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Kentucky's Rebound From COVID-19

S28 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/07/21

Jobs and the Economy

S28 E16 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/17/21

The Future of Policing in America

S28 E15 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/10/21

President Biden's First 100 Days

S28 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/03/21

Mass Shootings and Gun Laws

S28 E13 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/26/21

Voting Rights and Election Laws

S28 E12 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/20/21

The 2021 General Assembly: Debating Major Legislation

S28 E11 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/12/21

Wrapping Up the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E10 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 03/29/21

School Choice in Kentucky

S28 E9 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/22/21

No-Knock Warrants

S28 E8 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/15/21

Debating Legislative Priorities in the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E7 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/08/21

Proposed Legislation to Modify Kentucky Teachers' Pensions

S28 E6 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/22/21

Debating Historical Horse Racing Legislation

S28 E5 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/08/21

New Lawmakers in the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly

S28 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/01/21

A Nation Divided

S28 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/18/21

Recapping the Start of the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E2 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/11/21

Previewing the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E1 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/04/21

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