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New gun laws in Kentucky surprise just about everyone

Months before the murders of 20 first graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied the Kentucky
Hollyn Johnson/The Grand Rapids Press
Hollyn Johnson/The Grand Rapids Press

Months before the murders of 20 first graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied the Kentucky legislature to pass one of the most liberal gun laws in the nation. Only 10 lawmakers in both houses voted against the bill last summer and it quietly took effect at the beginning of this year. In fact, the law took effect so quietly it took transportation officials, security guards and firefighters by surprise.

One of the best investigative reporters I've ever worked with, Duane Pohlman, has put together a series of stories for WLKY/Hearst about how this new gun legislation has turned Kentucky into what one lawmaker called the "new wild west". They're worth watching. For instance, people can bring guns, but not knives into Louisville's City Hall.

Guns are legal on public buses, according to the state lawmaker who wrote it, though transportation officials have decided to enforce a gun ban anyway.

Firefighters in special districts are given extra rights to carry concealed weapons. Duane talked to one fire chief who explains why that could be seriously dangerous. EMTs can carry too.

I asked Duane a few questions about the law and his reports:

Ed Show: What inspired you to investigate the change in the gun law? Anything beyond fully reporting on the basic change in the law?Duane Pohlman: It wasn’t much to investigate the law and its effect, but getting clear answers was difficult.  The law was overwhelmingly and quietly passed by the Kentucky legislature in the Summer of ’12, with backing from the NRA. It was so quiet that many of the public officials and entities were caught off guard when it took effect this January. I received several calls from fire chiefs and mid-level managers who were in disbelief when they were informed. They called me to get some answers. That led to this simple series of stories laying out the law and its impacts.Ed Show:  I was surprised that the guard in your first story wasn’t armed with a gun, that knives were not allowed, and that one fire chief is worried about guns on his own crew. What, if anything, surprised you about the response to the law change?Duane Pohlman: Everything!  I could not believe this had passed and passed so overwhelmingly (only 10 votes opposed in both houses).  I was surprised that Kentucky’s constitution provided more protections than the US Constitution, allowing guns to be carried for personal and property protection. I was surprised by the lack of caring about allowing open guns in urban areas.  Above all, I was stunned by the lack of media attention to this issue, which I believe led to it quietly being passed.Ed Show: You reported that public transportation does not allow concealed-carry. If some organizations make exceptions to Kentucky’s law, does it become hard for regular citizens to figure out where they can and cannot carry?Duane Pohlman: It will be hard for citizens to know where they can bring their guns because, frankly, the political leaders are still scurrying for answers. For instance, TARC, the mass transit system in Louisville, is continuing its ban on guns on its buses, though the Executive Director tells me TARC leaders are still researching the legal ramifications of continuing the ban. In addition, I have been told by other leaders they truly don’t know how it applies in places where public gatherings occur. About the only places guaranteed (for now) not to be gun free zones in Kentucky are schools, colleges and universities, and prisons. Again, many of the leaders say they were simply caught off guard when the law took effect  and are still sorting it all out.The author of Kentucky’s new gun law, State Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, makes it clear. “ I feel more comfortable when citizens have a weapon to protect themselves because, chances are, they'll protect me as well,” he told me.   Fact is many, many people in this part of the country (and other parts) agree.

Kentucky is clearly out-pacing the rest of the nation in allowing citizens to carry guns in public places. The question is, will other states follow?