Compared to some other states, such as California or New York, Kentucky has very few gun-related regulations. The Kentucky Constitution specifically states that armed self defense is an individual right, and the only aspect of that right the General Assembly may regulate is the concealed carry of weapons such as firearms.
Senate Bill 7, currently before the General Assembly, could eliminate Kentucky’s only legal barrier to concealed carry.
The purchase and ownership of firearms in Kentucky is largely uninhibited. To buy a handgun in the state, for example, you need only be 18, have the money, and be able to pass a federal criminal background check (which usually takes just a few minutes). Once you buy a gun, there is no state registry or permit system, and you can openly carry it in public except in a few restricted places, such as courthouses.
However, concealed carry requires a license. To receive a license, applicants must meet certain qualifications. They must be a U.S. citizen (or otherwise permitted by federal law to purchase firearms), be a Kentucky resident (or a military member stationed here), be at least 21, have no prior felonies, have no recent alcohol-related violations or violent misdemeanors, and not owe unpaid child support.
Applicants (other than most police and military members) must also attend a mandatory 6-8 hour training course that includes instruction on the safe operation of handguns, on how to care for and clean them, on marksmanship principles, and on all firearm-related state laws and regulations. The course also includes actual range firing. Applicants must hit a “full-size silhouette target” 21 feet away with at least 11 out of 20 rounds fired from a gun they bring to class themselves (this is not especially difficult).
The requirements for a concealed carry permit in Kentucky are not strict by any reasonable measure. And yet 10 members of the Kentucky State Senate have introduced SB7 to remove the license requirement for concealed carry altogether. The bill would allow anyone otherwise qualified (age, criminal history, etc.) to carry a concealed firearm without a license – and without the valuable instruction that comes with it.
So the big question behind SB7 is why? Why effectively eliminate the one relatively low hurdle to legal concealed carry? Basic firearm instruction is good for everyone, especially in a society as awash in guns as is ours. Having a basic understanding of state gun laws is also valuable. The current concealed carry restrictions don’t interfere with anyone’s right to purchase and own a gun, or even carry one – open carry is legal by default – so there is no constitutional infringement to remedy. Why diminish something valuable and well within the legislature’s right to regulate?
I spoke to Sen. Albert Robinson (R-London), lead sponsor of the bill, about why he filed it. He first clarified that SB7 wouldn’t eliminate the state CCDW license. He said the bill would simply remove the criminal penalty for not having one, thus making the license voluntary. Those who plan to travel outside of Kentucky while armed should still get a license to comply with reciprocity requirements in other states, he said. He also assured me that he personally believes all gun owners should be well-trained and seek out instruction like the kind currently required under the state’s concealed carry regulations.
But if training is so valuable, why introduce a bill that would eliminate the only legal incentive to get it? Well, he said, “I handle all the NRA’s legislation in the state. This is the NRA’s bill.”
SB7 is actually part of an NRA-led effort called “constitutional carry,” the goal of which is to eliminate all legal barriers to carrying firearms in public – openly or concealed. This movement, launched in the early 2000s, is gaining ground. Starting with Alaska in 2003, nine states have rescinded their laws requiring concealed carry licenses. Eight of those states have done so since 2010, including Arizona, Wyoming in 2011, Kansas and Maine in 2015, and three last year: Missouri, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
Unfortunately, the NRA’s influence is so powerful that good-sense gun regulations that don’t infringe on any rights, like Kentucky’s concealed carry licensing laws, can fall victim to it. Even legislators like Senator Robinson who generally support gun training classes and licensing will submit to the NRA’s lobbying efforts. They will introduce bills like SB7 to eliminate laws which do not take anyone’s guns away, they simply impose easy-to-meet standards on just one form of bearing arms.
Last weekend I attended the (currently) mandatory training course as the first step to getting a Kentucky CCDW license. During the eight-hour class, a student mentioned that SB7 had been proposed. Every proud gun owner in the room, including the instructor, reacted negatively, and seemed to agree that eliminating the license requirement and thus the incentive to take the training course was a bad idea.
I can’t help but agree. Kentucky’s existing concealed carry requirements are relatively easy to meet, and the training that comes with it is valuable for public safety. And the laws as they now stand are well within the General Assembly’s constitutional power. They do not infringe any basic right to own or carry a firearm for self-defense.
Unfortunately it seems likely that the General Assembly will bow to the NRA, and eliminate the one legal incentive for Kentucky gun owners to get trained on responsible gun ownership. Those opposed should contact their senators and encourage them not to pull the trigger.