Experts told Kentucky lawmakers that gun violence needs to be addressed as a public health crisis, advising that they consider legislation that would require gun owners to lock up their firearms.
A legislative committee heard testimony on Wednesday about how gun violence impacts young people across the state and country. The meeting came after a string of school shootings across the country earlier this year, including an incident at Marshall County High School that killed two 15-year-olds.
Brit Anderson, a pediatric emergency doctor at the University of Louisville, said teens in the U.S. are 82 times more likely to die by firearm injuries than in other developed nations.
“This is a public health problem,” Anderson said. “And public health problems require a logical, multifaceted approach. There is no miracle cure here but we can and must do better.”
Firearm-related injuries are the third-leading cause of death in children between ages 1 and 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the Marshall County High School shooting, Kentucky lawmakers have considered a variety of legislation directed at preventing gun violence. The only policy that passed into law during this year’s legislative session was a provision encouraging more law enforcement to be put into schools.
Christopher Peters, a child psychiatrist at U of L, said Kentuckians need to be educated about locking up guns.
“If I leave the gun loaded and unlocked, I’ve raised the risk more than if I keep the gun locked separate from ammunition that’s also locked,” Peters said. “There are gradations in terms of how I respectfully manage my firearm.”
Louisville Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian voiced support for passing a law requiring parents to lock up guns if they have kids under the same roof.
“Locking them up so that kids cannot get them, taking out the ammunition so kids cannot get them and educating the public is all well and good, but I think we would need some legislation behind that,” Marzian said.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said earlier this summer that he thinks parents should be responsible for locking up guns when they have children in the house, but he wouldn’t say whether he thinks that should be mandated by law.
Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal has proposed making it a misdemeanor for parents to leave their guns unsecured in the house if children are around — that bill hasn’t gotten a hearing in the legislature.