Kentuckians who are licensed to carry concealed firearms could take them into places currently off-limits, including day-care centers, schools, universities, bars, government meetings and businesses that post “no guns” signs, under a bill pre-filed for the 2019 General Assembly.
State Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, said his bill would eliminate most of the prohibited locations in the state law allowing “concealed carry” because armed Kentuckians should be allowed to defend themselves and others in this era of mass shootings. It serves no one’s safety to declare so many gun-free zones that criminals won’t respect, Goforth said in a recent interview.
“This is a public protection bill,” said Goforth, a farmer and former pharmacist who first was elected to the House in a special election in February. “After everything we’ve seen going on, I think our citizens need to be able to protect themselves. Without the right to bear arms, you’ll continue to see violence like we did in Louisville the other day. The violence is just continually growing in our society.”
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Not everyone agrees with Goforth’s proposal. Anita Rowe Franklin, a Lexington woman whose 21-year-old son Antonio was an innocent bystander caught in fatal gunfire four years ago in a public park, said “the answer isn’t putting more guns out there.”
“It’s just too dangerous for the rest of us,” said Franklin, who is active at the state Capitol as a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “You tell me these people have permits. We have a lot of people who have a driver’s license, and it’s clear they don’t all know how to operate a motor vehicle safely. I’m pretty sure the same is true for some of the people with concealed carry permits.”
In the Louisville incident Goforth cited, a white man has been charged with fatally shooting two black shoppers at a Kroger grocery in Jefferson County last month. Police say the man also exchanged gunfire with an armed citizen in the store’s parking lot; neither was hit.
Lawmakers considered similar bills last winter that would allow permit holders to carry concealed guns on university campuses or let Kentuckians without permits carry concealed guns in the same locations allowed to people with permits. But those bills saw little to no action. Goforth said he’s unaware of any serious opposition to such bills in the General Assembly, but most attention last winter was focused on the state’s public pension shortfall.
Goforth’s bill would not allow concealed firearms to be taken into airports past the security checkpoint or jails, prisons, courtrooms or areas prohibited by federal law. Kentucky law already does not ban concealed guns from locations such as places of worship, sports arenas and gambling facilities, so the bill does not address those areas.
The Kentucky Restaurant Association has not yet taken a position on Goforth’s bill. But the head of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, John Akers, swiftly objected to anyone other than trained law enforcement bringing guns onto a school campus.
In the worst-case scenario of a school shooting, one or more armed citizens opening fire in a classroom or crowded school hallway easily could make things even deadlier for the children and themselves, especially once police charge into the chaos and take aim at anyone holding a gun, Akers said.
“The people who say they want to return fire have never been shot at before,” Akers said. “Maybe you’ve been to a firing range. But it’s a whole different ballgame when someone is shooting back at you.”
Even trained police officers typically miss their targets the majority of the time during gunfights. One such study, released in 2006 by Michael D. White at The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, examined police marksmanship data going back 30 years from officers’ use of firearms against other people. The so-called “hit ratios” varied from department to department, but it seldom exceeded 50 percent, and it usually was closer to 25 percent.
Every bullet that misses its target in a public place could hit an innocent bystander, said Mark Bryant, an experienced target shooter who runs a Lexington-based website, Gun Violence Archive, that tracks shootings across the country on an hourly basis.
“Many concealed carry holders seem to believe themselves to be (Die Hard character) John McClane — engage the bad guys, maybe get winged, drop a memorable quip and go on with the day. That is not how reality happens,” Bryant said.
“Studies have shown that when cops engage, they are accurate less than 25 percent of the time,” Bryant said. “Using basic math, where do the other 75 percent of rounds go in a confined space like a restaurant or bar or school or council meeting? Evidence shows they go into bystanders some of the time.”
More than 437,000 concealed carry permits have been issued by the state of Kentucky since 1996, according to the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. More than 12,500 permits have been revoked or suspended.
To qualify, applicants must be U.S. citizens, 21 or older, and have no felony convictions or alcohol- or drug-related convictions for the previous three years. They must complete up to eight hours of firearms safety instruction and hit a silhouette on a paper target 11 times out of 20 rounds fired.
Goforth said he understands concerns about the potential for armed citizens to make a dangerous situation worse if they don’t really know what they’re doing with their guns. He said he’s willing to consider changes to state law that toughen training requirements for concealed carry permits in exchange for the legislature hearing his bill.
“Hopefully, we’ll get this into a committee and have a good conversation about it,” Goforth said.
There had been 306 mass shootings this year in the United States as of Wednesday, according to Gun Violence Archive. The website uses the federal government’s definition of “four or more people shot and/or killed in a single event.”