In most states, weapons used in any crime from robberies to murders to drug-dealer shootouts are confiscated, used in evidence, then destroyed to keep them from being used in future crimes.
Not in Kentucky.
That Saturday Night Special used in a liquor store robbery or that AR-15 used in drug-gang slayings must – by state law – go back on the street, where it can at least theoretically go on to be used over and over in crimes and killings.
How do we know?
It started yesterday when an influential Louisville-based businessman – a political conservative – called us with a stunning piece of news.
Steve Bass, an investor in a number of Louisville businesses, including the new CyberKnife public-private partnership at J. Graham Brown Cancer Center, told Insider Louisville he proposed putting up a significant amount of money in order to allow Louisville authorities to start a monthly gun buy-back program, with the guns destroyed by authorities.
In Steve’s letter to local officials:
As we all are upset about the killings mainly in Western Louisville, I think we need to give the buy back plan another look. Why don’t you and the police have a gun buy back on guns once a month, each month for the near future. One gun off the street is one that is not ON the street. Even if you took donations to purchase them, there has got to be a way to get some of these guns off the streets.
This is not an uncommon approach to address gun violence in conflict zones. I saw successful buyback efforts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq run by PsyOps soldiers. To my complete surprise, a significant number of people would show up to dispose of everything from old shotguns to – in the Balkans – World War II-era German Luger pistols, land mines, artillery rounds, mortars, RPGs and grenades. (And yes, it broke my heart to watch soldiers destroy rare, historically significant weapons such as the Lugers, but there were no exceptions to the NATO/U.S. Army programs.)
When Steve tried to pitch state and local officials on his offer to fund a gun buyback program, he was informed Kentucky law forbids weapons seized by police from being destroyed.
In his uber-connected style, Steve contacted top legal and political officials, and ended up with multiple documents and emails, all confirming the NRA blocked that option long ago.
From a former Louisville government official:
As I am sure you are aware, we in Louisville used to melt down all guns confiscated when criminals were apprehended. The NRA went after this (practice) and (we) fought the fight against State Rep. Bob Dameron, who carried the NRA water. We were overwhelmed and lost (in) a landslide vote by the House and Senate. The law reads that all local governments are required to hold public auctions to sell confiscated weapons with the funds going to purchase bulletproof vests for local police. This was a fight we lost in the 90s.
So, we called Rep. Dameron’s office and spoke with Brian Traugott, his chief of staff, who confirmed the former Louisville official’s information. Traugott said he’s worked for Dameron for four years and wasn’t on the staff at the time that legislation was passed.
However, he confirmed the origins of the law, and the substance of what it means.
Traugott said all seized weapons are sold at auctions overseen by Kentucky State Police, and the funds used to buy what the public terms “bullet-proof vests,” but more accurately are termed individual body armor in military jargon, or IBA.
Just who buys the bulk of the weapons is unclear, he said: “There’s nothing to stop a rich individual from showing up at these auctions.”
Traugott conceded there’s also nothing to stop criminals from buying the weapons.
Completely unreported by the state’s two newspapers – the Courier-Journal or the Lexington Herald Leader – NRA officials have helped shape Kentucky into the state with the most lenient and permissive gun laws in the United States.
Beyond that, the NRA has figured out fail safe legal mechanisms that prohibit cities, towns or municipalities in the state from passing local ordinances restricting in any way unfettered access to any type of weapon.
Here’s but one example from a legal source:
KRS 65.870 was revised this summer by the Kentucky General Assembly to
further prohibit the government from enacting ordinances that regulate
firearms, ammunition or firearm accessory. Also significant to note
is how the law was revised to include any organization or agency
remotely related to the government, which means that these groups
cannot have any rules that regulate or limit guns, ammunition or
The statute says the law became effective on July 12, 2012, but gives the government six months to comply with the law.
Dameron chief of staff Traugott said NRA officials “aren’t real proactive,” typically not sitting in the room with lawmakers as legislation is drawn up. “They’re more reactive,” he said, responding to legislation they dislike.
Our sources tell us the Fischer Administration is sympathetic to initiatives such as Steve’s to take weapons off the street. Phil Miller, spokesman for Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer, did not return a call for comment.
But Steve received this email from a Fischer Administration official:
It seems that we have so many community members who care about these issues and really want to help us. We expect to have the Violence Prevention Director in place next month and they will help us to vet some of these programs. Historically, the police don’t love the buyback programs because our state law does not allow for the guns to be destroyed. Instead, we have to sell the weapons to firearms dealers. Thus, we become a part of the very dysfunctional cycle. That being said, you raise a good point and we will reach out to discuss options as we move forward.
The likelihood Kentucky will pass any post-Sandy Hook Elementary gun restrictions is remote, with top elected officials such as Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway receiving “A” or “A-plus” ratings from the NRA.
But even if Kentucky elects less gun-lobby-friendly legislators in the future, the NRA firewalls against tougher local control gun laws are likely to remain in place.