Kentucky legislature clearing way for more gun permits.http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/ky-general-assembly/2014/05/23/ky-legislature-clearing-way-gun-permits/9489225/
State police issued 59,530 concealed-carry licenses in 2013, a 447 percent increase since 2004.
The legislature has passed at least a dozen measures over the past decade to give permit-holders more flexibility
FRANKFORT, Ky. – The number of gun permits issued in Kentucky has quadrupled over the past 10 years, thanks in part to at least a dozen measures the General Assembly has passed to ease restrictions in the state's concealed carry law.
State police issued 59,530 concealed-carry licenses in 2013, a 447 percent increase from the 10,884 that were given out in 2004. More than twice as many people received a permit last year as compared to 2012, when a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., raised fears of tightened gun laws.
Meanwhile, the state legislature has passed at least a dozen measures over the past decade — often with support from the National Rifle Association — to speed up the application process and gradually give permit-holders more flexibility.
RELATED: Changes to Kentucky gun laws
A review of the legislative record dating back to 2004 shows that statutes on concealed weapons have been amended in the following ways:
• Active and honorably discharged military personnel who apply for licenses are no longer required to undergo training on state laws related to legal liability and the use of deadly force, if they received firearms training in the service.
• Domestic violence victims can receive a temporary, 45-day permit without completing the normally required training on firearms safety and state law.
• Firearms, loaded or unloaded, may be stored in more places about a vehicle — including center consoles and seat pockets — without being considered concealed. And employers cannot prevent employees from keeping guns in their car while at work.
• Officials are required to process applications at a faster rate. KSP must issue or deny permits within 60 days, down from 90, or within 15 days if the paperwork is submitted electronically.
• Public access to the names of licensees have been eliminated, and access to the information by law enforcement has been tightened.
• A six-month state residency requirement in applications has been eliminated.
• Gun owners have been granted authority to carry concealed weapons without a license on property they lease or own, or on property leased or owned by a relative. They may also carry in their own business without a license.
• Retired peace officers and prosecutors have gained broad authority above that of the general public to carry in most locations throughout the state, including courthouses and bars.
Pulling back restrictions
Kentucky has issued around 300,000 licenses since the state's concealed carry law was enacted in 1996, and the permits can be renewed after five years.
Proponents say the changes help Kentuckians exercise Second Amendment rights and eliminate unnecessary constraints from the law's original language.
"The benefit of doing that is you make it easier on our citizens to carry a concealed deadly weapon for the protection of their family and themselves," said Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, who sponsored the original law and has backed many of its amendments.
But critics charge that lawmakers, working under the National Rifle Association's political grip, have set the stage for more violence and deadly gun accidents.
Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat who has opposed revisions to the law, said that when he started in the legislature 24 years ago, lawmakers were cautious about concealed-carry bills. But Wayne said he has witnessed a sea change.
"It's pretty obvious that the NRA and their advocates are strategically trying to make it easier for society to be saturated with guns," he said. "They are doing that step by step, and the steps have increased their pace in the last several years."
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. Still, the group has spoken out in support of at least five bills on concealed carry since 2004, including a 2014 gun bill that marked one of the largest reforms in at least nine years.
That measure, among other things, allowed electronic applications, permitted temporary licenses for domestic violence victims and let corrections officers use their professional training to satisfy training requirements in permit applications — all deemed "important pro-gun reforms" by the NRA.
Some lawmakers argue that Kentucky hasn't gone far enough.
Republican Rep. Mike Harmon, for instance, has filed bills to allow concealed carry without a permit, and said lifting restrictions is popular among the voters he represents in Boyle and Washington counties.
"We create laws to protect people," Harmon said, "but some of our laws prevent people from protecting themselves."
This year's major gun bill passed 92-6 in the Democrat-led House and 37-1 in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Typically, only a handful of urban legislators vote against such bills, said Rep. Wayne. That's because the NRA has convinced rural lawmakers in both parties that they cannot win re-election without the group's approval, he said.
"The dominant way of thinking right now is the NRA and their agenda," Wayne said. "It's unfortunate, but I don't see it reversing course anytime soon."
The NRA has only contributed $3,450 to state House and Senate candidates since 2004, but lawmakers say they are effective at tracking and scoring the voting records of each legislator — and communicating that information to voters.
Damron agreed that many lawmakers want a strong score from the NRA come election time.
"They have a large network of membership in the state that are active and vocal and will get out and work for candidates they support their views and will work against candidates that don't support their views," he said.
The Kentucky legislature isn't alone in its efforts, according to groups that monitor gun laws.
Expanding concealed carry in public spaces and "weakening" the requirements for people to have hidden weapons has remained a priority of the pro-gun lobby and a trend across the nation, said Allison S. Anderman, staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Anderman said "states are going from 'may issue' to 'shall issue' " in laws that stipulate who can receive a permit.
Kentucky has used the "shall issue" approach since the concealed-carry statute took effect in 1996, which means authorities are required to issue permits so long as applicants meet objective criteria.
But a 2012 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that the number of "shall issue" states grew from 29 to 39 over the prior decade and states that prohibited concealed carry altogether fell from seven to just one: Illinois.
Since then, Illinois has lost a legal battle with gun advocates and, under court order, passed legislation to allow concealed carry. Now, only Washington D.C. does not permit concealed firearms.
Also, the Law Center reported last year that Kentucky is one of 17 states that requires authorities to issue permits without discretion.
Nine states allow authorities to consider an applicant's character and reasons for wanting a concealed weapon when issuing or denying permits, and 20 other states, like Indiana, have some limited discretion on who qualifies. Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming don't require a permit at all, the center noted.
'A very functional law'
Groups on both sides of the debate point to differing studies on the relationship between concealed carry and crime.
The NRA argues, for example, that violent crime declined to a 37-year low in 2010 as states lifted prohibitions on carrying firearms.
But the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence points to a 2005 study from the National Academy of Sciences that found no causal link between such laws and crime rates.
"The research has demonstrated that guns do not make us safer and actually the more guns that are available, the more likelihood there is for gun violence," Anderman said. "Normal escalations between people can turn deadly when there is a gun available."
Still, Damron said Kentucky's law has proved successful and that the legislature is mostly working to "clean up" language in the statute, not make wholesale changes.
"Generally speaking, I think the original intent of the '96 act has been maintained over the last 18 years, and we still have a very functional law," he said.