NRA demand endangers Kentuckians

Five of the 24 Lexington homicide victims in 2016 included, clockwise from top left, Trinity Gay, Nathaniel McNealy, Caleb Hallett, Maryiah Coleman and Nova Marie Gallman.
Five of the 24 Lexington homicide victims in 2016 included, clockwise from top left, Trinity Gay, Nathaniel McNealy, Caleb Hallett, Maryiah Coleman and Nova Marie Gallman. Herald-Leader

Around 350,000 Kentuckians have completed firearms safety courses and passed background checks to legally carry a concealed weapon in the last 20 years.

Now the state Senate is poised to gut the training, background checks and licensing requirements.

Senate Bill 7 also would lower the legal age for carrying a concealed firearm in Kentucky from 21 to 18.

Why, you may wonder, when gunshot victims seem to be getting younger and younger, would responsible lawmakers send a message that it’s OK for anyone lacking firearms training to carry a hidden gun in public?

It’s a good question.

The answer is simple, if unsatisfactory: The National Rifle Association wants it.

SB 7 is greased and ready to rocket out of the Senate when the legislature resumes Feb. 7.

It has 10 sponsors, including Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, and already has received two of the three required readings for passage, even though it’s never been heard by a Senate committee.

Lawmakers should put on the brakes and give law enforcement a chance to speak.

What they would hear is that the police and the public are safer because of the licensing requirements in the 1996 law that created Kentucky’s concealed-carry system. When an officer stops a car, the dispatcher, based on the license plate, can report whether the car’s owner has a concealed carry permit. Everyone involved is safer when officers have that knowledge. Same when officers are serving a warrant.

Since 1996, Kentucky has denied more than 9,000 applications to carry concealed weapons for a variety of reasons spelled out in the law, including felony convictions, a record of alcohol or drug violations, not being a legal resident of the United States or Kentucky and child support debts or warrants. Another 11,000 concealed carry licenses have been suspended.

SB 7 would create an honor system instead. An individual could legally carry a concealed weapon “if the person is not prohibited from carrying the weapon by other law applicable to the person, the weapon, or the location in which the weapon is carried.”

Consider: More than 9,000 people have paid the $60 application fee without realizing they were ineligible for a concealed-carry license.

It’s safe to assume that some people illegally carrying concealed weapons under SB 7’s honor system would not realize they were breaking the law. Also, the background checks in the current system give people an opportunity to clear up the disqualifiers in their records.

To carry a concealed weapon now, a Kentuckian must demonstrate competence with a firearm by completing a course that includes safety, actual range firing of a handgun and learning about Kentucky’s firearms laws.

SB 7’s sponsor Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, told an interviewer that he thinks gun owners should seek the kind of training that’s required under the current licensing system but, as he explained in an Insider Louisville article by attorney Joe Dunman, “I handle all the NRA’s legislation in the state. This is the NRA’s bill.”

This would be an opportune time for the newly Republican-controlled legislature to show that its first allegiance is not to an interest group, even one as powerful as the NRA, but to Kentuckians and common sense.