Politics & Government

Lawmaker wants parents to know state Capitol has gun-toting visitors

FRANKFORT — A Louisville lawmaker wants parents to sign a permission slip before sending their children to the Capitol that tells them visitors sometimes carry guns in the building.

Parents of the thousands of children who visit the Capitol each year while on field trips should know that visitors to the Capitol may carry guns openly, and lawmakers may carry a hidden gun if they have a concealed weapons permit, said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.

Marzian said she realizes the bill, along with other gun-control proposals that she plans to file, "doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing."

But given the well-publicized shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six, including a 9-year-old girl, Marzian said she thought parents should at least be aware that guns are allowed.

The issue came to the forefront in March when a visitor in a packed House gallery, which overlooks the House floor, was removed after officers suspected he had a weapon. The man was wearing a holster but did not have a weapon.

Marzian and other Democrats had asked House leaders to consider not allowing people to carry weapons in the gallery, but the House ultimately never changed its rules.

There are metal detectors at all entrances to the Capitol and the Capitol Annex, the main office building where almost all of the legislature's committees meet.

"But they give people a false sense of security," Marzian said. "I don't know why we even have them."

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said House members discussed and rejected changes to rules about allowing guns in the Capitol more than a year ago.

"We reviewed this issue and had a debate," Lee said, referring to the incident in March. "Guns don't get up and kill people by themselves, ... Gun control just restricts law-abiding citizens from owning guns."

Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, who has been a long-time supporter of gun owners' rights, said it's disrespectful to use the people who died Saturday to further an agenda.

Damron said the right to carry a weapon openly is in the state Constitution. The legislature might not be able to restrict carrying a weapon in the Capitol without a constitutional amendment, he said.

"We have a lot of security measures that we don't talk about," Damron said of the legislature. "I feel very safe and secure there."

Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the issue is under review. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, did not return calls seeking comment.

It's not clear how many states allow guns in their capitol buildings. Marzian said she thinks only Kentucky and Texas allow visitors to carry guns.

Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday he thinks current rules and regulations about guns in the Capitol "seem to work well."

"The legislature is in control of the allowance of guns in the Capitol," he said. "I don't see any reason to change it. I don't know whether they do or not."

In 1996, then-Gov. Paul Patton issued an executive order banning concealed weapons from state office buildings, including the Capitol. But the legislature rejected the measure, saying only the legislature could decide whether someone may carry a concealed weapon.

Beshear declined to answer questions about whether he has more security since Saturday's shootings in Arizona, saying state police have asked him not to talk about his protection.

"As governor of this state, I will continue to be available and accessible," he said. "Kentuckians expect their governor to be available. They expect to see the governor and talk to the governor about issues that concern them."

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