'What goes up must come down': Louisville lawmakers pass ban on celebratory gunfire

·5 min read

UPDATE: Metro Council members voted 18-6 during a March 17 meeting to approve an amended version of the gunfire ordinance.

The approved ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to fire a gun within 300 feet of a public road or alley or at a structure within 300 feet of the person firing the weapon.

It also asks Louisville Metro Police to report back to the Metro Council with any information on the enforcement of the new ordinance.

The original story from January is below.

Every year, Louisville Metro Police take hundreds of reports of reckless or celebratory gunfire around Jefferson County, often during holidays when some residents feel the need to shoot off weapons along with fireworks.

During the past New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, for example, Louisville's 911 center received 325 calls for shots fired — 6% of all such calls received in 2021.

A trio of Louisville Metro Council members said Thursday they want to crack down on the "aimless" firing of guns that can lead to damage and injuries, since "what goes up must come down."

Metro Council members Bill Hollander, D-9th District; Pat Mulvihill, D-10th; and Nicole George, D-21st; said they intend on filing legislation to ban the "unlawful" discharge of firearms in the city, with certain exceptions, and make it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and/or a maximum $500 fine.

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The council members said they consulted with LMPD when crafting the ordinance, and the department showed its support of the legislation Thursday during a news conference at City Hall.

"No one should have to worry about stray bullets hitting their home, their car or their loved one. This is not a political issue," Mulvihill said in a statement. "This is a common-sense issue. Adopting this ordinance to ban dangerous gunfire in Louisville will make a positive impact on everyone’s safety."

Lt. Col. Joshua Judah said LMPD "supports the adoption of this ordinance because it’s needed."

"Shooting guns indiscriminately in populated neighborhoods defies common sense, yet we deal with it every day," Judah said. "This ordinance gives our officers a needed tool to address this unsafe behavior while providing safe avenues for responsible shooting in less populated areas."

The members insisted their proposal would not infringe on Second Amendment rights. The prefiled legislation lists the following exceptions in which shooting off a gun is allowed:

  • When "legally defending persons or property;"

  • By law enforcement officers, military personnel or "similar officers in the execution of their official duties and during training;"

  • Within a "properly zoned and constructed indoor firing range;"

  • When "legally hunting on at least five contiguous acres of open land;"

  • When "engaged in target shooting, skeet shooting, sport shooting or demonstration shooting" on outdoor properties permitted and inspected by the city.

State statutes largely prevent Louisville and other cities from firearms ordinances, but the Metro Council members said in a news release that "state law does not preempt Louisville Metro Government from enacting common-sense gun legislation by prohibiting the discharge of firearms."

"Most constituents think it is already illegal to discharge a firearm in Louisville but there is no general law to that effect," Hollander said in a statement. "This common-sense ordinance, which mirrors existing law in many other cities, in Kentucky and across the nation, gives LMPD added resources to keep people safe."

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Lexington, Bowling Green, Erlanger and Shelbyville are among the Kentucky cities with similar laws currently on the books.

Before the city-county merger in 2003, Louisville also had prohibited the unlawful firing of a gun within city limits.

If adopted, the new ordinance would apply to smaller cities within Metro Louisville, if those cities do not already have more stringent rules.

The city's 911 center received 5,756 calls for shots fired in 2021, according to the Metro Council members. And last year also saw a record 641 non-fatal shootings in Louisville, with the city seeing 15 homicides so far in 2022.

Louisville set grim, historic marks for homicides and shootings in the past two years, with the 188 criminal homicides in 2021 surpassing the 173 murders in 2020.

"Louisville has significantly grown in population since 2003, and what used to be rural areas of the county are now more dense," George said. "It makes sense to bring back this legislation as a way to help mitigate the current rise in crime."

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Krista Gwynn attended Thursday's announcement at City Hall and spoke about how shootings have hurt her family. Her teenage son, Christian, was shot and killed in 2019, and her teenage daughter, Victoria, survived getting shot last summer in Ballard Park.

"I think a law like this is important because we are losing our future to gun violence. It’s almost like this is a plague that we need to find a way to stop," the mother said in a statement. "My kids are scared to go outside during holidays because of all the celebratory gunfire. What goes up must come down. Our kids deserve a chance to grow up without fear, no matter what part of town you’re from."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer reiterated Thursday that public safety is "my No. 1 priority."

"And we must continue to explore all avenues to creating a safer city, including this ordinance, which will enhance our whole of government approach to public safety by adding common-sense gun law regulations across our county," Fischer said.

The ordinance is expected to get officially filed before the end of the month and then assigned to a committee in February.

Reach Billy Kobin at bkobin@courierjournal.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville Metro Council members pass ban on 'aimless' gunfire

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