LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — It's no secret that kids are getting their hands on guns. The "why" and "how" to keep schools safe is something community leaders say needs to be the focus of everyone's efforts.
The legal age to buy a gun in Kentucky is 18, with 21 being the legal age for a handgun. However, this year alone, 41 kids have been arrested or cited for possession of a gun by Lexington Police. Georgetown Police reported six. Richmond Police released one minor to their guardian. Nicholasville Police arrested one and cited another.
Community activists Terry Dumphord and Doyle Lee are youth mentors. Dumphord founded the Voyage Movement, which seeks to empower youth to be leaders and pave the way for a brighter future.
Dumphord knows how easy it is for a child to seek out and obtain a gun.
“It’s as accessible — as I told 'em' earlier — as pulling up to Burger King and buying a burger,” said Dumphord.
Growing up in a marginalized environment that supported violence and gun use, Dumphord says it’s been a long-standing issue for youth from that background. But he has noticed differences.
“It's younger kids carrying guns and they're carrying bigger guns with extended clips that can actually touch more people,” he explained.
Lee is the founder of educational non-profit H.E.A.R.T.S. Together, they’ve been tackling the issue holistically.
“Guns are a byproduct of what we grow up with. We need resources to deal with that," said Lee. “These kids are not trying to bring them so much as they are inheriting what they see. From the time that they're born. Right? Hearing gunshots in neighborhoods. This is not normal for most, but it is their normal.”
They hope everyone in the community who interacts with kids will be a part of the solution by helping to uncover the "why" surrounding gun possession.
“What we have to control is the reason why they feel the need,” said Dumphord.
“It's important to figure out how kids are getting the guns but what is more important is how the parents are allowing it.”
The CDC’s latest High School Youth Risk Behavior survey found that on at least one day that year, 5% or 1,980 young people in Kentucky carried a gun.
Some of them even take those guns onto school property.
The most recent data from the Kentucky Center for School Safety reveals at least 50 kids were caught with some kind of gun during the 2017-2018 school year.
Weapon possession increased 8.58% between 2018–2019 and 2019–2020.
Schools do have safety plans and security. More than $11 million dollars were given to schools in 2022 to help keep students safe.
Still, the increase in kids with guns is something that Jon Akers, Executive Director of Kentucky Center for School Safety, says schools can't be responsible for fixing the issue on their own.
"We only have the kids from eight o'clock to three o'clock for 170 days, which actually constitutes only 15 percent of a calendar year. We're really relying on moms and dads and guardians and mentors out there in the community who have these kids 85 percent of the time,” said Akers.
Right now, only 2% of money for school safety is being used on community-based programs. Around 10% is being used for intervention, according to state data.
Many people in the community think the numbers and the lockdowns should be an indicator that needs to change.