What The Louisville Shooting Tells Us About America's Gun Violence Epidemic

Kentucky State Governor Andy Beshear was among those mourning a personal loss after the mass shooting in Louisville.

You’ve seen it so many times before: A governor speaking after a mass shooting, mourning the loss of life. But what you saw after Monday’s massacre in Louisville, Kentucky, was different.

This time, the governor knew some of the victims well.

“This is awful,” Gov. Andy Beshear said shortly after the shooting. “I have a very close friend that didn’t make it today.”

The friend was Thomas Elliott, 63, a high-profile civic and corporate leader who worked in the financial industry. Elliott was a senior vice president at Old National Bank, which has branches across the Midwest and Appalachia ― including an office in downtown Louisville where, police say, a former employee walked in on Monday and began firing with a rifle.

The shooter died a few minutes later, following gunfire with officers who arrived quickly on the scene. But by that time, nine people had suffered serious wounds and four bank employees had died, according to police.

The four who died were Joshua Barrick, 40; Juliana Farmer, 45; James Tutt, 64; and Elliott.

At a news conference, a visibly shaken Beshear mourned them all, calling them “children of God … irreplaceable, amazing individuals that a terrible act of violence took from all of us.”

He mentioned that he knew two of the surviving gunshot victims as well, including one who at the time was still in critical condition. As for Elliott, the governor described him as “an incredible friend” and “one of the people I talk to most in the world.”

In America, Lots Of People Know Gunshot Victims

Beshear knowing some of the victims isn’t as unusual as it might seem, according to a new survey that the nonprofit research organization KFF published Tuesday morning.

In that survey, 19% of adult respondents said they had a family member who had died from gun violence. Similar proportions said they’d been personally threatened with a gun (21%) or had witnessed somebody being injured with a gun (17%).

The numbers are consistent with the findings of a 2022 UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll, as well as academic studies and statistics on the prevalence of gun violence. The KFF poll has some more detailed questions, designed to produce a more nuanced picture of exactly who is experiencing what kind of gun violence.

“We hope that these numbers help explain how commonplace these experiences are and how far-reaching the impacts of gun violence are,” Ashley Kirzinger, KFF’s director of survey methodology, told HuffPost.

KFF didn’t plan to release its poll in the immediate wake of a mass shooting. Advance notice about the survey landed in reporters’ inboxes about 9am Monday, before word of the Louisville massacre began circulating widely on social media.

Then again, it’s not like this poll needed a new shooting to seem relevant. The Nashville school shooting was just two weeks ago, the Michigan State University shooting just two months ago. Since the beginning of the year, there have been literally thousands of fatal shootings across the country ― including another one in Louisville around the same time as the bank massacre.

That shooting took place at a community college. One person died.

“The two incidents appear to be entirely unrelated,” Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said at a news conference following the bank shooting. “But they both took lives. They both leave people scarred, grieving and angry. I share all of those feelings myself right now.”

There’s a lot of that going around now.

In America, Gun Violence Is Common

The US is the only economically advanced country where gun violence is so common, and that’s almost surely because this is the only economically advanced country where gun ownership is so common.

Or, to put it more simply, America has so much gun violence because Americans have so many guns.

There’s no quick and easy way to address this problem because there’s no quick and easy way to reduce the number of guns in circulation.

Tight limits on ownership combined with buybacks for the existing supply have worked in other countries. But the votes to pass those don’t exist, either in Congress or in most state legislatures. Even if they could pass, such restrictions would struggle to get past the US Supreme Court, which has been using an expansive reading of the Second Amendment to strike down some of the regulations already on the books.

Still, there’s good reason to believe more modest measures could make a difference. Among them are universal background checks and “red flag” programs, which allow courts to take guns away from individuals who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. These measures poll well and have become law in a number of states, although Kentucky is not one of them.

The Republican-controlled legislature there has been moving in the opposite direction. Less than two weeks ago, it overwhelmingly passed a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” initiative that forbids local or state officials from enforcing recently passed federal gun regulations. Beshear, a Democrat who has supported red flag laws but opposed assault weapon bans, allowed it to become law without his signature.

On Monday, Beshear didn’t talk about the possibility of tightening Kentucky’s gun laws, saying only that a discussion of “issues” would come later. And it certainly wouldn’t be easy to pass new restrictions, given the state’s political profile.

But if the survey data is right, Beshear isn’t the only Kentuckian who’s lost a loved one to gun violence. And maybe that will make a difference.

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