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Bill would allow Ky. attorneys to carry concealed firearms in court

Jefferson County Family Court Judge Denise Brown discusses opposition to House Bill 690.
Jefferson County Family Court Judge Denise Brown discusses opposition to House Bill 690.

Lawyers would be able to legally carry concealed firearms into court under a bill that has passed the Kentucky Legislature.

Prosecutors and judges are already allowed to concealed carry in court, but under language added to a fast-moving bill during Kentucky’s legislative session last week, any attorney would be able to, as long as they have a concealed carry permit.

House Bill 690 now awaits action from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Judges, law enforcement, attorneys, victims advocates and Democratic lawmakers called on Beshear to veto the measure Monday during a news conference outside the Hall of Justice in downtown Louisville.

Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville said the amendment was “snuck into a bill” by Republican lawmakers without an honest explanation.

“The idea of allowing licensed attorneys to carry guns whenever they want, wherever they want, in the courtroom makes zero sense,” McGarvey said.

The bill would allow the attorney general and any lawyer in Kentucky to carry a concealed firearm or other deadly weapon “at all times and at all locations” without limitation in the state, so long as they have a concealed carry license.

On Monday, law enforcement members expressed concerns that defendants might overwhelm their attorneys. Victims advocates said it could have a chilling effect on survivors of intimate partner violence sharing their stories. Both judges and lawmakers said it was an example of legislative overreach.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Jessica Green said the bill could undermine the feeling of safety that Kentuckians should have when stepping inside a courtroom.

“The introduction of firearms by laypeople could put the very fabric of the system that we are holding in the palms of our hands… could  completely disrupt it,” Green said.

Jefferson County Family Court Judge Denise Brown said trained law enforcement officers should be the only people who have access to firearms inside the courtroom. 

“We believe that when individuals come, the public, come to the people’s courtroom, that they should have a feeling of safety and wellbeing and should not be concerned about who has a gun,” Brown said.

Republican Sen. Johnnie Turner of Harlan added the additional language to an unrelated bill on the Senate floor last Tuesday. The Courier Journal first reported that Turner did not clearly explain the amendment on the Senate floor.

"The floor amendment just clears up some things that adds the attorney general and attorney general employees along with other licensed judicial people to be included with what is now commonwealth attorneys and county attorneys and assistants," Turner said, according to the Courier Journal.

Turner said in a statement that all attorneys in good standing with the Kentucky State Bar Association should be awarded the same rights. He said Democrats and the public had four days to review his amendment prior to attaching it to the bill on the senate floor.

“My amendment to HB 690 is consistent with a long-standing practice for officers of the court in Kentucky,” he said.

The measure passed out of the House and Senate over two days last week with only one lawmaker voting against the measure.

Beshear now has the opportunity to veto the legislation, though it only takes a majority vote in both chambers of the legislature to override the action.

Kentucky lawmakers will return for the last two days of this year’s legislative session on April 13 and 14 where they could decide to override any of the governor’s vetoes.

Opponents of the bill included the Kentucky Circuit Judges Association, the Jefferson County Sheriff, the Kentucky Sherriff’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell.

O’Connell said that although he and his assistant county attorneys have had the ability to bring concealed weapons into the courtroom for years, he has requested staff not do so.

“There is an epidemic of gun violence in Jefferson County caused in no small measure by the proliferation of guns throughout the community, bringing them into courtrooms where tensions are already high is dangerous and is bad policy,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell said theAmerican Bar Association holds a similar position urging courthouses to limit gun carrying to public safety officials.

This story has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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