The firearm a 25-year-old man used this month to shoot and kill five of his colleagues at a bank in Kentucky is expected at some point to go up for auction – a practice set by a state law the shooter’s family and Louisville’s major say they want changed.
The statute, in place since 2016, states that certain confiscated guns are not retained for official use “shall be sold at public auction,” with some proceeds going to public safety programs.
The law governs the inevitable future of weapons that live on long after anyone they were used against might have perished. And in a nation where infamous shootings rack up by the week, it sets a clear process for the firearms’ fate – in contrast to other cases, like the five-figure donation that ensured the 2017 Las Vegas shooter’s arsenal would be destroyed or the controversial private auction for the gun used to kill Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Still, the family of the Louisville gunman – who was shot dead by police responding to the attack – “was aghast to learn the Kentucky law mandated the assault rifle used in the horrific event … be sold to the highest bidder at public auction,” they said in a statement.
And despite the law, they’re taking steps to see that the AR-15-style rifle – the weapon of choice of many US mass shooters – is legally destroyed, they said.
Meantime, Louisville’s Democratic mayor, a day after carnage unfolded during a staff meeting at the Old National Bank branch, also declared the gun-auction protocol – and called for it to change.
“Think about that: that murder weapon will be back on the streets one day,” Craig Greenberg said at a news conference. “It’s time to change this law and let us destroy illegal guns and destroy guns that have been used to kill our friends and kill our neighbors.”
Just six days before the April 10 massacre in Louisville, Connor Sturgeon went to a local gun dealership and legally bought the AR-15-style rifle he’d use to slaughter his coworkers, police have said.
This past Monday, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took possession of the assault rifle – the first step in ensuring its legal destruction – said Sturgeon’s family, adding it’s also working with the Louisville Metro Police Department to see the weapon is finished.
“This tragedy is yet another indication that meaningful, common sense gun safety measures must be enacted,” the family said in its statement, adding, “We respectfully urge the Kentucky state legislature to lead the way by changing the Kentucky law to remove the gun auction provisions.”
The call for change is not about politics but “life and death,” said Greenberg, who also demanded from federal and state lawmakers “the autonomy to deal with (Louisville’s) unique gun violence epidemic.”
“The laws we have now are enabling violence and murder,” Greenberg said, slamming the state law that requires law enforcement to put seized firearms up for auction to federally licensed firearms dealers with an appropriate license.
“We have to take action now. We need short-term action to end this gun violence epidemic now so that fewer people die on our streets and in our banks, in our schools,” the mayor said.
“I don’t care about finger-pointing. I don’t care about blame. I don’t care about politics. I’m only interested in working together with our state legislators to take meaningful action to save lives to prevent more tragic injuries and more deaths.”
Gun enthusiasts have described Kentucky as “one of the most gun-friendly states east of the Mississippi,” while gun violence prevention groups like Everytown for Gun Safety have billed its laws as “among the worst in the country.”
Kentucky is also home to some of the highest firearm death rates in the country, the latest statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. Experts attribute gun violence across the state to relaxed laws in obtaining firearms and the absence of any training requirements to handle a legally purchased gun.
“Universal background checks are nonexistent, so you can buy a gun from a stranger and there’s no record of the sale, making it almost impossible for law enforcement to trace these weapons if they’re ever used in a crime,” said CNN contributor Jennifer Mascia, founding staffer at The Trace, a nonprofit focused on gun violence.
While the Louisville shooter’s rifle remains in limbo, the case recalls the fate of other weapons used or owned by notorious American gunmen – and the ethical questions that cropped up as what would happen to their firearms was considered.
gAn anonymous donor in 2019 gave $62,500 to ensure guns owned by the man who shot and killed 58 concertgoers in 2017 in Las Vegas were destroyed, said Alice Denton, the attorney for the special administrator of gunman Stephen Paddock’s estate. The collection as a whole was appraised at about $62,300.
“The question becomes: If we liquidate these guns and sell these guns, which is required as part of the special administrator’s duty, we will be perpetuating the violence that actually caused the death of those individuals?” Denton told CNN in 2019.
All of Paddock’s property has since been sold and all of his guns were destroyed or taken out of circulation by the FBI after a federal judge in 2022 ordered the agency to destroy the majority of the firearms, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Separately, the man acquitted of second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin auctioned the firearm he used to kill the 17-year-old.
George Zimmerman got his Kel Tec 9 pistol back after he was cleared of the charge.
Zimmerman auctioned what he called “a piece of American history” on the United Gun Group auction site, with a final bidder possibly offering $138,900 for the firearm, according to the auction hosted site. The 9mm pistol carried a suggested price of $356.36 on the manufacturer’s website.
Whether the bid won is unclear, as two auctions ran simultaneously, one for pre-qualified bidders and one for the general public, according to United Gun Group.