Ky. law allows openly carried guns in city buildings

— People can now openly carry a firearm in any city-owned facility in Kentucky — including libraries, parks, the zoo, city council chambers and city hall — thanks to a revision made to state law last year.

The law, which applies to any legal firearm, also states that in some places, like suburban firehouses run by special districts, people with the appropriate permit may carry concealed weapons.

The revision, which became subject to enforcement this month, clarifies that firearms may only be regulated by the state, voiding all local ordinances and restrictions.

“Local governments can’t regulate firearms,” said Rep. Bob Damron, a Democrat from Nicholasville, Ky., who sponsored the bill, which was passed in 2012.

State law prohibits firearms in schools, jails and prisons. Colleges and universities are allowed to prohibit guns under state law, and restrictions in court buildings are set by the judicial branch. Private businesses may still prohibit guns, and a separate state statute allows cities to ban people from carrying concealed firearms into their facilities.

But with few state regulations specifically addressing guns on property owned by local governments and special districts, signs prohibiting people from openly carrying firearms have started coming down.

Damron said Kentuckians have not always been clear about where they are allowed to carry their firearms because of varied local policies and laws. But local bans were illegal, Damron said.

The bill passed the state House 88-8 on March 14 and the Senate less than two weeks later 34-2. Gov. Steve Beshear signed it into law April 11. A spokeswoman for Beshear had no immediate comment Thursday.

The law has created some consternation.

In response to the measure, Hardin County officials enacted an ordinance that bans concealed firearms from county buildings, said Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham. But the county is seeking advice from the attorney general’s office on whether county-owned Hardin Memorial Hospital must allow openly carried firearms or is exempt because it is a health care facility.

In Louisville, the law has prompted a review of all metro government policies that might reference firearms, and some concern about its impact.

“We have serious concerns about the safety implications for our employees of metro government and the public who comes into these buildings,” said Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, whose office is nonetheless making sure city laws and policies comply with the new state law.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said the city will now allow anyone openly carrying a firearm into its buildings. Other weapons, however, remain banned — “even though you can bring guns, you can’t bring knives,” Poynter noted — so metal detectors and security will remain.

“We have concerns for the safety of our workers,” said Poynter, who pointed out that sometimes the work of government can make people angry. “To be able to come to the office with a gun is disconcerting to some of our employees. But the law seems quite clear on that.”

Metro Councilman Kelly Downard said he’s not afraid that people will act inappropriately.

“There are a whole lot of things more dangerous than that around City Hall,” Downard said. “That doesn’t scare me.”

But Councilwoman Madonna Flood said the law “flies in the face of common sense.”

It is not far-fetched that people may use weapons in meetings when they become upset, she said, citing the fatal September shooting of two men at a Spring Creek Homeowners Association meeting.

“When you bring guns into a situation where things become heated,” Flood said, “you’re asking for trouble.”

Zoo’s response

Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak said adjusting to the new rules is a “big change” for zoo staff, since guns had not been allowed there previously. Signs that once asked patrons to return any weapons to their cars have been removed.

Walczak said the zoo is developing training for personnel so they can monitor the zoo and ensure the safety of patrons, should someone bring in a firearm.

Stephanie Phelps, who visited the Louisville Free Public Library with her young son this week, said the idea of having guns inside a library makes her feel very uncomfortable.

“I don’t think it’s right at all,” she said, adding that she would be concerned about someone who is emotionally unstable having a weapon and becoming agitated.

“They snap and they’ve got a gun and there goes everybody,” she said.

Craig Buthod, library director, said incidents like the shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people, including 20 children, were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, have heightened awareness about the potential for danger.

But he said he doesn’t believe many gun owners will opt to bring their firearms into libraries, especially because they are places where children gather.

“I think most people have better sense,” Buthod said. “I don’t think we’ll have very many people bringing guns.”

Firehouse firearms

In suburban fire districts, which are considered special districts under state law and aren’t governed by the city or county, fire chiefs and trustee boards are no longer allowed to make their fire stations gun-free zones.

Additionally, because special districts are not covered under the separate law that allows cities to ban concealed weapons, they also must allow those with permits to bring guns into their buildings.

That includes firefighters on duty — something that has been met with mixed reaction among fire chiefs.

Harrods Creek Fire Chief Kevin Tyler said he’s very uncomfortable with having his firefighters carrying weapons while on duty, for several reasons. Traditionally, firefighters do not carry weapons, and the public has come to expect that, Tyler said.

While obtaining a concealed carry permit requires some certification and training, Tyler said that’s not sufficient for first responders. “We are seen as the people who help you,” Tyler said, not the people who enforce laws and carry guns.
Guns Kevin Tyler

A law that went into effect recently means firefighters in suburban districts may now carry guns while on duty if they have a permit. Some fire chiefs are embracing this, saying it adds a layer of security for firefighters. But others, including Harrods Creek Fire Chief Kevin Tyler, pictured here on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, are concerned.(Photo: Kylene White, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal)

Jeff Riddle, chief of Middletown Fire, said on any given shift he has two or three firefighters who carry their personal weapons. Riddle said firefighters carrying guns present many potential problems, but there is nothing he can do to prevent it.

Riddle said the trustees have approved a new policy that prohibits leaving any potentially harmful item, including a gun, knife and medication, unattended in the firehouse. “If they bring it in, they are personally liable,” Riddle said.

Buechel Fire Chief Rick Harrison, meanwhile, said he welcomes his firefighters who have permits to carry their firearms on duty. Harrison said there are times when firefighters encounter dangerous situations in which guns would provide added safety. For several years, Harrison has had permission from the trustee board to carry his weapon inside the firehouse.

“The gun they are allowed to carry is for their personal protection,” Harrison said. He said the department plans to conduct additional training in firearm safety.

Harrods Creek Sgt. Ali Thomas, who has a concealed carry permit, said he won’t be taking his gun to work.

Thomas, a former military police officer, said as a firefighter he doesn’t want the added responsibility of carrying a gun on duty. “It’s an added, unnecessary risk” that he’d have to worry about, Thomas said.

While Damron said he would be willing to look at whether the revised law is causing unexpected consequences, he firmly believes regulation should rest with the state.

He also sees no problem allowing guns in libraries, parks or other public venues.

Generally, “I’m in favor of giving people the right to protect themselves wherever they are,” he said. Areas may be safer “if you have a carry concealed holder in those areas than if they were gun-free zones.”
This Article came via The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.

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