Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Louisville witnessed a dramatic increase in shootings and homicides last year as its murder rate reached a 28-year high, and 2016 homicides currently are outpacing last year’s total through April. Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad previously has cited the easy access to guns as a partial factor in this increase, and a review of city records shows that illegal weapons charges have significantly increased along with shootings and murders.

In 2015, there were 677 illegal weapons charges in Jefferson County, mostly consisting of carrying a concealed deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Such charges increased 31 percent in 2014 to 886, and increased again by 31 percent in 2015 to 1,160, and the totals through the first three months of 2016 outpace those from last year during the same time period.

From 2013 to 2015, concealed carry of a deadly weapon charges increased by 74 percent from 323 to 562, with the number of prior felony weapons offenders receiving this charge increasing by nearly five times. In the same time period, charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon increased 55 percent from 284 to 440, and possession of a handgun by a minor and unlawful possession of a weapon on school property doubled. Charges for defacing a firearm or possessing a defaced firearm also double over this time.

Source: LMPD's Open Data Portal Crime Data
Source: LMPD’s Open Data Portal Crime Data
Source: LMPD's Open Data Portal Crime Data
Source: LMPD’s Open Data Portal Crime Data

LMPD spokesman Dwight Mitchell tells IL the recent increase in weapons charges is not due to an increase of guns in the community, but is due to the creation of its 9th Mobile Unit — formerly known as the VIPER Unit, launched in 2012 — dedicated to addressing violent crime. He says LMPD tracks where those guns and ones used to commit violent crime are obtained, which includes purchases in gun stores, gun shows, online and off the black market on the street, though he did not immediately have such statistics.

This year, President Barack Obama made an executive action to keep unlicensed gun sellers from fueling the gun sales on the black market, clarifying the rules in which such dealers are required to obtain a license and conduct background checks for those they sell guns to. The National Rifle Association immediately blasted this as a way to “instill fear in gun owners and intimidate them into believing that private transfers are now illegal,” and launched an ad campaign claiming the Obama administration will implement a gun confiscation plan that would force Americans to turn in their firearms.

The NRA will hold its annual convention in Louisville this weekend, which will feature speeches on Friday afternoon from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Matt Bevin.

The number of homicides in Louisville increased by 49 percent in 2015, and the number of shooting victims increased by 41 percent. Those numbers have increased in each of the past two years — along with the total number of robberies and aggravated assaults — and those violent crime statistics are higher in the first three months of 2016 than they were in 2015.

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]