Committee discusses temporarily removing firearms from individuals in crisis
FRANKFORT — Legislation to temporarily remove firearms from individuals experiencing a mental health crisis may be filed during the 2024 legislative session.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, said he’s been working on the bill for “a while.” It would focus on crisis aversion and rights retention, or CARR, for those individuals, he said.
Westerfield presented his ideas alongside other supporters to the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary on Friday. He said he does not have a draft of the legislation complete yet, but he was hoping to create a dialogue with his colleagues on their concerns and ideas for the bill.
“As a Second Amendment supporter, as a gun owner, a former NRA member – I wanted to make sure that it was constitutionally sound,” Westerfield said. “I set out to try to do that and come up with a version of this bill that didn’t present some of the same problems that prior attempts at this – not only in Kentucky, but in other states – has done.”
Kentucky already has a statute where individuals in crisis can be held in a temporary, 72-hour psychiatric hold if that person meets certain criteria. During that time, that person does not have access to firearms.
Westerfield’s proposal would aim to create a new type of court order to give law enforcement the power to temporarily remove firearms from other individuals in crisis who are not placed under a psychiatric hold, but still need care. That person would have an opportunity to appeal the decision in a timely manner.
Temporarily removing firearms from individuals in crisis would hopefully prevent more suicides and other acts of violence, such as mass shootings, Westerfield said.
Whitney/Strong executive director and cofounder Whitney Austin shared her mass shooting survival story with the committee. Austin was shot 12 times at Fifth Third Bank headquarters in Cincinnati in 2018. She asked the committee to think about their loved ones and the trauma gun violence causes.
“I am telling you, there is nothing you wouldn’t do to prevent them from experiencing this,” Austin said. “The collective, or our shared humanity, I believe calls on us to prevent this violence.”
During discussion, Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, said she knows everyone has a sincere desire to keep Kentuckians safe, but she is opposed to this legislation.
“You’re still talking about a proposal that at a bare minimum has the potential to violate at least three constitutional rights in addition to due process and the presumption of innocence,” she said.
House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, said he also has constitutional rights concerns.
“Fundamentally this bill takes away a constitutional right from a citizen based on the prediction that they might commit a crime in the future,” he said.
Westerfield responded that the current legal system already has limits to individual rights based on probable cause. In addition, he said his bill would not change anyone’s right to presumption of innocence and would not involve any criminal penalties.
Rep. Pamela Stevenson, D-Louisville, expressed support for Westerfield’s legislation, by stating the general assembly has to “be brave enough not to let people die.”
“I agree with the Second Amendment, but with every right, there’s a responsibility,” she added. “… There are a lot of dead citizens that were law abiding citizens because we’re not taking action.”
Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, asked Westerfield to explain why CARR isn’t a typical “red-flag” law.
Westerfield said his bill would make the burden of proof higher than other states.
“There’s not just anybody who can just go and ask the judge for this,” he said. “You’ve got to convince a law enforcement officer that this is warranted and then they’ve got to convince a judge.”
The Kentucky General Assembly cannot take action on legislation until the 2024 legislative session begins on Jan. 2.
For more information, visit legislature.ky.gov.