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Louisville Mayor on Ending Gun Violence

Louisville, Kentucky is an urban community in a rural state, and Kentuckians share a long history and belief in personal gun ownership. So, when I called together a group of citizens earlier this year to develop an aggressive strategy to end escalating gun violence in Louisville, critics said the city would never be able to bring about change in a pro-NRA state.

With the Kentucky General Assembly convening in January, I took steps this week to turn up the heat in what promises to be a major challenge for local control.

The Mayor's Task Force to End Gun Violence released its report following six months of meetings and testimony that examined gun violence, its contributing factors, current gun laws and options that could be implemented to make Louisville a safer city.

The Task Force is a diverse group comprised of top leaders in law enforcement, education, government, the religious, medical and legal communities, civic organizations, and gun merchants.

The strategies that the Task Force has proposed are common sense approaches to problems that confront the Louisville community.

At the very moment I convened the first meeting of this Task Force, a 6-year old boy was being treated in the critical care unit of a local hospital after being shot in the face by his 11-year old brother. Just days before a 17-year old girl shot an 11-year old child in a street corner dispute. We don't need more tragedies to teach us. We need action. That's what our report is intended to achieve.

Among some of the recommendations are requiring owners of guns to be licensed, changing a state law which requires that police resell guns which are confiscated in crimes, and regulating gun shows.

Louisville faces a unique challenge. Combating our Kentucky heritage and history in an effort to make a change in Louisville is certain to be a formidable task, but we are ready to take on the fight for local control. Wresting our cities out of the grip of gun violence can most effectively be done at the local level.

Prior to the release of the report, we received an endorsement of the direction we've charted when Vice President Al Gore informed us that Louisville has been selected as one of 10 communities across the nation to form a "Safe Cities Network" to reduce gun violence.

We will share strategies, work with federal law enforcement and other agencies, and have access to experts in gun violence reduction.

According to Vice President Gore, Louisville was chosen from 30 applicants to participate in this program, "because of our plans that balance prevention, intervention, and enforcement."

We are committed to measuring and achieving results.

Some of the actions proposed by the Task Force will require state legislative action, but we are prepared to lobby for the support. We're an underdog in the effort to change these laws, but the fight is a necessity if we're going to bring about any change in what's taking place in our society.

The Task Force will ask the Kentucky General Assembly to consider establishing a Firearms Owner Identification system, which would require that, in order to legally own and possess a firearm, a citizen would have to have a valid Firearm Owners identification card.

Several requirements would have to be met to obtain the card and it would be required to purchase any ammunition for firearms.

Under the Task Force's recommendation, a person under 21 years of age would be able to obtain a card if he/she has written consent from a parent or legal guardian and also would have to satisfy certain requirements. The parent or guardian providing the consent must also hold a valid card.

The I.D. system also would make the person who provided the consent legally liable for any damages caused by the minor by the use of firearms or ammunition. The concept was enthusiastically endorsed by the gun dealers on our Task Force.

Establishing this system would establish accountability. I am not against gun ownership, but I am for responsible ownership. This system would require responsible ownership.

The Task Force also will set out to repeal a state statute that mandates the resale of confiscated weapons, something I believe should be a community's choice.

The statute was developed to generate revenue for police departments but this is not appropriate for our community. It's our experience that these weapons should be destroyed. They far too often are back in our evidence room, having been used in another crime.

We also will ask the General Assembly to amend state laws to be compatible with federal restriction regarding possession of shotguns or machine guns. We will seek tougher penalties for using a firearm in relation to any violent crime and make it a  Class D felony for anyone to sell or barter a firearm to an underage person with a known criminal record.

The Task Force also wants state laws amended to clarify the requirements necessary to prosecute parents and other adults who have allowed weapons to be accessible to children.

Gun shows will be another target, with the Task Force seeking mandatory background checks for anyone who purchases a weapon at such shows.

We want new legislation to enable us to more effectively regulate these shows.  Licensed dealers are trying to do their part to make sure guns are sold to people legally qualified to buy them. Some sellers, however, are not.

Another proposal will be the mandate of a firearms safety course for all purchasers of firearms and the regulation of private firearms sales.

A key component in the plan is improved enforcement. We discovered there are many federal laws on the books that are not being utilized.

The City will partner with the ATF, through the Safe Cities Network, to track guns that are being used to commit crimes. In this regard, we will utilize a Gunshot Wound Database program, developed by the University of Louisville. By identifying guns used in crimes and tracing them to their source, we can more effectively enforce existing statutes prohibiting illegal gun sales and aid in the prosecution of crimes.

I am confident that our actions can restore confidence in the safety of our community and the quality of life our children will find in the future.

The recommendations will require the support and participation of all citizens, but I have made a pact with the people of Louisville that we will work together to exhaust every possible option to reduce the number of guns on the streets. Working together, we can make Louisville the safest city in the nation.

This endeavor is intended to change our mindset about weapons. That is what we need to do in every city in America.

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