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Texas shooting renews calls for action, but Kentucky's top lawmakers aren't sending out any new signals

Jae C. Hong/AP
A law enforcement personnel lights a candle outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Desperation turned to heart-wrenching sorrow for families of grade schoolers killed after an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in their Texas classroom and began shooting, killing several fourth-graders and their teachers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Tuesday’s deadly attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas is sparking outrage and reigniting the political debate over gun control. So far the news is being received by Kentucky leaders with familiar refrains.

Addressing the Senate, GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell offered words of comfort and quoted scripture, but avoided any talk of the renewed push for action on the policy front.

"It's literally sickening... sickening... to consider the innocent young lives that were stolen by this pointless, senseless brutality."
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Meanwhile in Texas, the senator was being called out – by name – by some who see his party as bearing some responsibility for failures to prevent such attacks.

"I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence in school shootings, in supermarkets shoots, I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that's what it looks like," Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, told the press.

The coach used a pre-game press conference to express his frustration that the Senate hasn’t acted on universal background checks.

"It's pathetic. I've had enough," Kerr ended emphatically, exiting the stage.

Back at home, Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr echoed McConnell’s prayers for the victims, but added in a statement that “now is not the time to politicize this tragedy. Instead, we must unite in our grief and outrage, support a thorough investigation, establish the facts and seek justice.”

It’s a familiar political scene one Kentucky activist hopes will play out differently this time. Whitney Austin, a Louisville gun violence survivor who was shot 12 times in a 2018 attack on a Fifth Third Bank, has since started an organization dedicated to ending gun violence.

"And we continue to meet roadblock after roadblock," she told WDRB, "And so I'm not here for that. I'm here for... let's meet in the middle, what policies can you get behind, let's move those and let's start reducing gun violence now."

Whether Tuesday’s shocking attack will do anything to break the political logjam remains to be seen.

The massacre is again shining a spotlight on school safety reforms, a number of which Kentucky passed following the 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School.

In the wake of the attack that left two students dead and many more injured, lawmakers crafted what came to be called the Kentucky School Safety and Resiliency Act. While gun control was never considered, the reform package did a number of things.

It created the District School Safety Coordinator and State School Security Marshall posts, tightened school building access, instituted new active shooter training, created school safety assessments, and set the goal of an armed school resource officer in every school, among other provisions.

Alex Payne, who was Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky State Police in 2018 and was on the scene after the Marshall County shooting, told WAVE3 the extra security is a key component to combatting events like the one that took the lives of at least 19 kids and two adults in Texas.

"If you were planning against and trying to defend against something like this happening here tomorrow, then you would want individuals in your facility that were trained to take a fight to someone who really came there not looking for one," he said.

But while Kentucky lawmakers did act on reforms specifically focused on schools, GOP majorities have also sought to loosen gun regulations statewide.

In 2022, lawmakers introduced measures that would have made Kentucky a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” state, where police would be barred from enforcing federal gun control laws, prevented universities from banning guns on campus, and allowed attorneys to carry concealed firearms into courtrooms.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.