MEMO: Background on the Kentucky School Shooting

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Giffords
DATE: January 23, 2017
RE: Two Students Dead, 17 Injured at School Shooting in Benton, Kentucky


Just before school started on Tuesday morning, a crowd of students were gathering in the common area at Marshall County High School in the small town of Benton, Kentucky, when the sound of gunfire rang out. The shooter, a 15-year-old boy who attends the high school, used a handgun in the attack. He killed two of his 15-year-old classmates and injured 17 others, before being arrested by a Marshall County sheriff’s deputy.

“To walk in, the backpacks laying around. The phones laying around, going off … it’s indescribable. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. It’s not like anything I’ve experienced in my life.” Marshall County Attorney Jeffrey Edwards

“You could see students dropping their bags and just start running, pushing past each other. Everyone in cars started turning around and driving away. Kids were jumping the fence around the school and running through the woods.”Taylor Droke, high school junior at Marshall County High School

“I feel that no parent should ever have to go through. I never thought it would come to our home town here. And it has… This is just one of the saddest days I’ve ever seen in our hometown.” Jennifer Utley, parent of a high school student and a middle school student

“It was the most frightening thing. I’m 60-some years old and I’ve never been so damn scared in my entire life.” Gloria Hollfield, grandmother of a high school student

Tuesday’s mass shooting was the third school shooting in just two days.

On Monday, a 16-year-old student shot and wounded a 15-year-old in the school cafeteria in Texas. Later that same day, a 14-year-old was shot in the parking lot outside a high school in Louisiana. While the shooting in Kentucky was the first fatal school shooting of 2018, research from Everytown for Gun Safety found that there have been at least 11 school shootings in America this year. And research from the Gun Violence Archive shows there’s been at least 13 mass shootings since the January 1.

America’s gun violence crisis is not normal—and it’s not inevitable. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other developed nations. In fact, no other country like ours comes close. Over 115,000 people are shot each year, almost 34,000 of those fatally. In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords again called on Congress to address this devastating epidemic:

“Our nation’s schools should be some of the safest spaces in our communities. Why do we keep allowing this terror to happen? We know how to solve this problem. Congress can protect our kids in their classrooms, in the cafeteria, and on the playground – but to do that they must strengthen our gun laws. It’s horrifying that we can no longer call school shootings ‘unimaginable’ because the reality is they happen with alarming frequency. The devastating news about the shooting in Kentucky this morning is the latest example, but just yesterday, while the nation’s attention was focused on the government shutdown, school shootings were also reported in Texas and Louisiana. Our nation has experienced 13 mass shootings already this year, and it’s only January. We will never accept these horrific acts of violence as routine. We must continue standing together and demanding that our leaders not only acknowledge this devastating problem but take long overdue action to keep our children safe. My heart is with the victims of this terrible tragedy, their families, and the first responders.” Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Background on Guns in Schools

Guns have no place in our nation’s schools. That’s why Kentucky and the vast majority of states — 47 of them in all—prohibit carrying or possessing a firearm on K–12 school property. But despite schools’ best efforts to keep guns off the premises, kids with access to guns sometimes bring them to school, and use them. Between 2013 and 2015, an average of two school shootings took place at K-12 schools each month. Over two-thirds of students who used guns to commit “targeted violence” against their school acquired the gun(s) used in their attacks from their own home or that of a relative. Alarmingly, over 1.69 million children and children under age 18 have access to guns because they live in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms. And, one study showed that 73% of children aged nine and under reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms and 36% admitted that they had handled the weapons, including many whose parents had reported their children did not know the location of their firearm.

Gun Laws in Kentucky

In 2016, Kentucky had the nation’s 13th highest gun death rate. In Kentucky, there were 17.5 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Kentucky has enacted almost no laws to keep residents safe from gun violence. Kentucky received an F on our state gun law scorecard and was ranked the 8th worst state for firearms laws. Kentucky does not require background checks prior to the transfer of a firearm by an unlicensed person, does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time, fails to impose a waiting period on firearm purchases; has not regulated unsafe handguns; does not require firearm owners to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement; and has no significant regulation on ammunition sales. Kentucky also has, arguably, the most extreme law in the country penalizing lawmakers who seek to protect residents from gun violence through local ordinances. The state makes local elected officials criminally liable for passing gun safety legislation in their locality.

Unlike the majority of states, Kentucky has not enacted a child access prevention law. Its neighboring states of Illinois, Indiana, and Virginia all have versions of a child access prevention law. Kentucky also does not have any law requiring that firearms be safely stored in the home while they are not in use.

Background on Child Access and Safe Storage Laws

Child access prevention (CAP) laws incentivize responsible firearm storage, while holding irresponsible owners accountable for negligent storage practices. Unsafe storage of firearms is a pervasive problem: a 2005 survey concluded that 1.7 million minors in the US live in homes where loaded firearms are left unlocked. That survey found that approximately 37,460 children and teens in Kentucky have access to unlocked, loaded firearms. Unsecured guns can be deadly in the hands of troubled children and teens seeking to harm others, and they also increase the risk of unintentional shootings and youth suicide.

Fortunately, the danger posed by unsecured guns can be reduced. Twenty-seven states and Washington DC have addressed this problem through child access prevention laws, which impose criminal liability on adults who allow minors to have unsupervised access to guns. These laws encourage responsible firearm storage and have proven to be extremely effective at ensuring that minors are not able to access a family member’s gun and use it to harm themselves or others. For example, Florida’s CAP law—the first such law in the country, which was accompanied by a major public education campaign— was associated with a 51% decrease in child unintentional shooting deaths between 1989 and 1997.

Safe storage laws codify accepted standards for responsible firearm storage practices, helping to prevent gun theft and reduce suicides, accidents, and homicides by children and unauthorized users. Whereas CAP laws hold adults accountable after the fact for irresponsibly storing firearms around children, safe storage laws prescribe affirmative safety requirements, typically requiring that firearms be stored in a locked container or gun safe or disabled with a gun lock when they are not in use or under the owner’s control. The US Government Accountability Office has estimated that 31% of accidental gun deaths could be prevented by use of a child-proof gun lock in combination with other safety devices.

Safe storage laws are broadly supported by the American public. A 2013 national survey found that 67.2% of respondents support laws requiring gun owners to lock up any guns in the home when not in use to prevent handling by children or teenagers without adult supervision.

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Giffords is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence. Led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, Giffords inspires the courage of people from all walks of life to make America safer.

For nearly 25 years, the legal experts at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have been fighting for a safer America by researching, drafting, and defending the laws, policies, and programs proven to save lives from gun violence.