FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers sided with a powerful gun-rights organization Friday in approving a bill to let people carry a concealed handgun without a permit or training.
The measure, backed by the National Rifle Association, sparked impassioned debate in the House that veered between gun ownership rights and fears of more gun violence. The bill won final passage on a 60-37 vote and goes to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
“This comes down to a constitutional right. We have a right in this country to own and bear arms,” Republican Rep. John Blanton said in supporting the measure.
Under the legislation, Kentuckians able to lawfully possess a firearm could conceal their weapons without a license. A gun-carrying permit in the state now carries a fee and a gun safety training requirement. Objections from opponents included dropping the training requirement as a condition for carrying concealed weapons.
“The right to carry a weapon in our society — as with all rights — comes with responsibility,” Democratic Rep. Maria Sorolis said. “And this bill provides no protection for responsibility by gun owners to know their weapon, to be able to use them well.”
Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to an email asking if the governor will sign it into law. Bevin, a staunch conservative, is seeking re-election this year.
If Senate Bill 150 becomes law, Kentucky would become the 16th state to allow adults statewide to carry concealed firearms without permits, according to the NRA.
Kentucky now requires people to get a permit before they can carry a concealed firearm in the state. To do that, they have to undergo a background check, complete some gun safety training and pay a $60 fee.
The legislation would allow people who are at least 21 years old and meet other legal requirements for gun ownership to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
Supporters said the measure makes no changes regarding where and when people can possess concealed weapons.
The bill sailed through the Republican-led Senate on a 29-8 vote last month.
Supporters of the bill said Kentuckians already can carry weapons openly without any training. But if they carry a gun under a coat, they currently need a permit.
“Wearing a jacket and concealing the firearm should not create a legal requirement for training,” said Republican Rep. Savannah Maddox, who took the lead in shepherding the measure through the GOP-dominated House. “Nor does the Second Amendment allow for the government to assess fees in order to do so.”
While supporters characterized it as enabling people to defend themselves, opponents said having more people armed with concealed weapons without a permit or safety training would create more dangerous situations, including for law enforcement.
“Too many innocent lives are lost because the wrong people got hold of a gun,” said Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni.
Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins said the bill sends the wrong message to Kentuckians that “you have to have a gun to protect yourself.”
“Let’s stop this craziness,” she said. “Let’s take a breath and think about what we’re really doing here.”
Blanton said some of the bill’s opponents were resorting to “fear mongering” with their concerns that it would lead to more gun violence.
“Let’s be realistic,” he said. “How many people are carrying out there today that we don’t have a clue whether or not they’re in possession of a firearm? Whether or not they’re legal to possess a firearm? It’s going on every day, regardless.”
A series of attempts by the bill’s opponents to amend the measure were defeated or ruled out of order on parliamentary grounds. Many of the bill’s supporters and opponents described themselves as gun owners as they joined in during the long debate.
But some Republicans from suburban districts joined in opposing the bill, pointing to their concerns about waiving training requirements for carrying concealed guns.
“This is very difficult,” Republican Rep. Kim Moser, a gun owner and NRA member, said in explaining her vote against the bill as the debate wrapped up. “But I just believe that carrying a concealed weapon carries with it a higher responsibility and it should have a higher threshold.”