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Gun-toting visitors alarm some lawmakers

FRANKFORT — Several Kentucky House members complained Tuesday about the number of gun-toting visitors to the state Capitol, minutes after Kentucky State Police officers escorted a man they suspected to be armed from the crowded visitors' gallery overlooking the House floor.

"There are no safeguards for us, folks," Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said in an impromptu floor speech. "We are, in fact, sitting ducks."

The man in the gallery wore his shirt loosely over the top of a gun holster, making it impossible to see whether it held a gun, said Sgt. Brian Evans of the Kentucky State Police's legislative detail. Some other visitors to the gallery were armed Monday, Evans said.

When police asked the man if he had a gun, he started to cause a scene, Evans said. Police removed him from the gallery and determined he had left his gun in his vehicle, Evans said.

"It took a while to settle," Evans said. "He was wanting to let the troopers know that he was fully aware of all of his constitutional rights."

On the House floor, lawmakers asked Speaker Greg Stumbo to tighten security. Throughout this legislative session, they said, visitors have strolled around the Capitol and Capitol Annex openly displaying guns, which is worrisome given how angry some people get about politics.

"The metal detectors and guards at the entrances give our guests a false sense of security if we're allowing the admission of people with loaded weapons," Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said to Stumbo. "Please, please take action."

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, later said the House Democratic caucus would talk Wednesday about whether to ban guns from the House chamber, which would require a vote of the full House. Under state law, visitors to the Capitol may openly carry guns and lawmakers with a concealed-carry permit may carry a hidden gun, he said.

Stumbo said he supports gun owners' rights, but given the circumstances, it would be appropriate to ban weapons at least from the House, Senate and Supreme Court chambers inside the Capitol building.

"I think there's a genuine issue here," Stumbo said.

Former Gov. Paul Patton issued an executive order in the 1990s banning concealed weapons from state office buildings, including the Capitol, but the legislature rejected it. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, state police tightened security at the Capitol's entrances and installed metal detectors, but they did not prevent people from entering if they openly carried guns.

Also Tuesday, Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, protested on the House floor that a House committee had refused to give his gun-related House Bill 87 a hearing. The bill, which Lee calls "The Kentucky Firearms Freedom Act," would specify that guns, gun accessories and ammunition made and used in Kentucky are exempt from federal firearms laws.

After Lee complained, the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs held a brief unscheduled meeting and heard Lee's testimony on his bill but did not vote on it.