Voting members of the Marshall County Fiscal Court last week received impassioned letters from advocates for the victims of domestic violence, asking them to pause and take stock of the consequences which would accompany the proposed Second Amendment sanctuary county ordinance scheduled for a second reading and vote next week.
Merryman House Executive Director and Clinical Psychology Resident Mary E. Foley said her biggest concern with weighing in on the matter was people perceiving her as trying to impose her political beliefs -- but this is an issue about people, not politics.
"At the end of the day, people want to make [the proposed ordinance] a political issue but we need to approach this from an apolitical position because as written, this ordinance has what I believe are unintended consequences that don't explore all of the ways this could play out. The concern here is a real one," she told The Tribune-Courier.
Foley said the Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center (MHDCC) serves nearly 1,000 victims annually across its eight-county footprint with services that range from crisis response to programs assisting clients with housing stabilization, mental health support and economic justice--as well as emergency shelters, a 24-hour crisis line, assistance with protective orders and partnerships with local law enforcement to reach victims in highly lethal situations.
Just since March 1, when the MHDCC partnered with the Marshall County Sheriff's Office to provide the nationally-recognized Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), police in Marshall County have responded to approximately 100 domestic violence incidents during which they felt it appropriate to administer the LAP; nearly half of those victims were considered high risk for death or serious physical injury, Foley reported.
"Overall, the sheer volume of calls demonstrates the high number of home environments that may be volatile or require police presence," she said, noting statistics indicate less than 10% of domestic violence incidents are reported. "These examples concretely demonstrate the real and concerning problem of domestic violence within the county, but only those cases where we are fortunate to become involved.
"All too often, domestic violence occurs in the shadows and out of public view. As such, it is critical that ordinances, regulations and laws be designed to protect and not unintentionally bring harm."
Foley said while the proposed ordinance currently under consideration by the Marshall County Fiscal Court does not appear to affect the federal firearm prohibition which arises when a person is a respondent to a domestic violence order (DVO) and they are or were an "intimate partner" of the petitioner, or when a person pleads to or is found guilty of a "qualifying misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," it would prevent law enforcement from seizing firearms from such persons or a court from ordering the surrender of firearms. The ordinance, if passed as proposed, she said would also prevent a judge from ordering any prohibition of possession of a firearm other than when the federal law applies.
"The ordinance strips the legal system of judicial discretion during a critical time period and leaves the responsibility of compliance with federal law solely in the hands of the potential wrong-doer," she explained. "We simply must not create barriers for local police and judges to enforce current state law. The consequences could be deadly."
A few other statistics Foley shared: the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increased the risk of homicide for women by 500%; more than half of women murdered with guns are killed by family members or intimate partners; female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined; a 2019 study found states with laws prohibiting gun ownership or possession for people with court orders against them, regardless of their criminal history, had 23% fewer domestic violence deaths than states with no restrictions.
Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence (KCADV) CEO Angela H. Yannelli also issued a letter to the fiscal court members, aiming to better educate them on the potentially life-threatening results of the proposed ordinance and asked them to reconsider passage.
"There are people who should not be in possession of a firearm. Law enforcement should be able to confiscate guns from those domestic violence perpetrators who have been court ordered not to be in possession of a firearm," the letter reads in part.
"If you pass the proposed ordinance as written, you will be tying the hands of your local judges. You will be stripping them of the ability to make critical decisions regarding emergency situations where lives are at risk."
The letter cites a study recently conducted by the Kentucky Violent Death Reporting System which determined 75% of intimate partner homicides involve firearms; by a margin of three to one, more Kentucky victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) were shot and killed with a gun than any other method of homicide; Kentucky has one of the highest rates of IPV in the country; the Four Rivers area has one of the highest rates of IPV in the state.
"If you pass this ordinance, a woman who has had a gun held to her head while her children look on, who is fortunate enough not to become one of the 20 to 30 IPV victims we have in Kentucky every year, may be able to get a protective order. But the judge reviewing her petition will not be able to order her husband to not possess firearms until the court hearing; that judge will not be able to tell the sheriff to go collect those guns," the letter reads in part.
"The Bill of Rights is a precious and cherished collection of fundamental rights which we all value; however, another right--the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--is equally as precious and equally deserving of protection," Yannelli wrote. "Please, we urge you not to pass the ordinance and place more lives at risk."
Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal said on public radio Dec. 20 he planned to hold a second reading and vote of the controversial ordinance during the Jan. 7, 2020 fiscal court meeting.
Deputy Judge-Executive Brad Warning said Neal's office had spent $800 in legal fees for Kent Masterson Brown of Lexington, who Neal referenced during the Dec. 17 meeting as the "constitutional attorney" who advised the proposed Second Amendment sanctuary ordinance was acceptable as-is.
Warning also confirmed Brown is expected to attend the Jan. 7 fiscal court meeting, although he said he was not yet aware of the amount of fees or charges for that visit.
Warning noted the fiscal year 2020 budget approved by the fiscal court members allotted $10,000 to Neal's office for legal fees.
Warning also confirmed Lance Cary, who recently identified himself on social media as Neal's "executive assistant" when he invited people to attend the first reading of the proposed ordinance on behalf of Neal, is not an employee of the Marshall County Fiscal Court.
The Tribune-Courier reached out to Brown regarding his opinion of the proposed ordinance which several attorneys, including Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall, have said exceeds the authority of county government and is therefore not valid; Brown did not respond to the request for information prior to press time.