Op-ed by Whitney Austin about CARR legislation in Kentucky
Not everyone gets the chance to look death in the face and come out on the other side with an opportunity to make an impact and save lives. But on September 6, 2018, the opportunity found me when twelve bullets ripped through my body. Thanks to the bravery of the Cincinnati Police Department, the Cincinnati Medical Center, and countless first responders, I survived and was reunited with my precious children and husband.
In mere minutes, four people, including the shooter, lost their lives.
That’s a tragedy I want to prevent from happening again—and why I am proud to support Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention (CARR) legislation in Kentucky.
For those quick to dismiss this as another gun control effort, I ask that you take a moment and focus on the words “rights retention.” And keep an open mind.
This is not about stripping gun owners of their rights or taking away guns from law-abiding citizens. It’s about helping people in crisis to ensure they don’t hurt themselves, their loved ones or anyone else. It’s doing what any reasonable person would do if faced with such a situation in their own family.
Gun rights and gun ownership have become highly polarizing issues in our society, which has made it difficult to have meaningful discussions about them, particularly in state legislatures. But these problems aren’t going away. And after my experience, I refuse to throw up my hands and say, “there’s nothing we can do to stop gun violence and reduce suicides”—because I believe there is.
While CARR may not end all gun violence and suicides, it is a smart, bipartisan approach that could save lives while helping gun owners who are experiencing crises. That’s something all Kentuckians should support.
CARR creates a legal path to temporarily separate someone in crisis from their firearm. Separation is neither permanent nor automatic. The legislation includes a stringent judicial review so that due process is maintained and the burden of proof is achieved. It also provides an opportunity for these individuals to access the services they may need to address the crisis so that, ultimately, they can get to a better place where gun ownership is safe.
Imagine a scenario where your brother is expressing suicidal thoughts and can easily access multiple firearms at his home. You’ve urged him to seek crisis services time and time again, but he refuses, and you’re terrified he will use one of his firearms to take his own life.
CARR will allow you to seek assistance from law enforcement who will investigate the situation and, if sufficient evidence exists to remove the firearms from the home, take the next step to approach a district court judge. If the judge agrees your brother is in crisis and separation should occur, the order is served, and law enforcement collects his firearms. The length of separation is determined in court, with the maximum being one year if not appealed.
During this time, your brother will have the opportunity to access crisis services, which could reduce the length of separation. The goal is to get gun owners back to a place where it is safe for them to have their firearms. After all, without intervention, tragedy could occur and a gun owner could lose his or her right to own firearms forever, or worse.
While this is not a situation anyone wants to experience, we cannot dismiss that it is a reality facing many Kentuckians. The brother in this example could be your parent, spouse or other family member.Nationally, gun violence killed over 43,000 people in 2020, slightly more than automobile fatalities and slightly less than breast cancer. In 2020, mass violence (shootings with four or more victims) exceeded any recent year by 50%. Suicide rates have been increasing across the country for the past 2 decades. But closer to home, according to CDC data, between 1999 and 2019 Kentucky’s suicide rate increased 30% more than the national rate. Importantly, most Kentuckians who died by suicide over the past decade used a highly lethal firearm (64%), putting Kentucky thirteen points higher than the national rate for firearm suicides (51%). We simply cannot ignore these statistics, and I hope the Kentucky General Assembly agrees. The right to bear arms is never to be taken lightly, but neither is the opportunity I’ve been given to advocate for change. We must recognize that firearms and crises can be a deadly combination and support the CARR legislation that will save lives.
CARR is a reasonable step that does not trample Second Amendment Rights—in fact, it was written to protect them. And while these issues can be difficult and divisive to discuss, it’s a small sacrifice to make to save lives and help Kentuckians in crisis get the support they need.
Whitney Austin, a southerner who grew up around guns, was shot 12 times during the Fountain Square shooting in Cincinnati in September 2018. She is the executive director of Whitney/Strong a nonprofit working to increase gun safety and end gun violence and suicide by firearms.