Few individual items stir up quite as fiery a debate as guns. A new law has Kentucky square in the sights of that dialogue.
Senate Bill 150 has now passed through both chambers of the Kentucky legislature successfully, and is due to be signed by Gov. Matt Bevin, who has already stated his approval. Under the legislation, Kentuckians able to lawfully possess a firearm could conceal their weapons without a license, according to the Assocated Press.
Currently, a permit allowing one to legally carry a concealed firearm in the Kentucky requires gun safety training as well as a $60 fee and a background check.
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, according to the Associated Press.
The bill was approved 29-8 in the State Senate and 60-37 in the House, though it had its opponents. Democratic Rep. Maria Sorolis said, "The right to carry a weapon in our society -- as with all rights -- comes with responsibility. And this bill provides no protection for responsibility by gun owners to know their weapon, to be able to use them well."
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Savannah Maddox said, "Wearing a jacket and concealing the firearm should not create a legal requirement for training. Nor does the Second Amendment allow for the government to assess fees in order to do so."
The bill received supporting votes from Pulaski County's own two native legislators in Frankfort, Rep. Tommy Turner and Sen. Rick Girdler. Ken Upchurch and David Meade, who also represent parts of Pulaski County in the House, also voted for the bill, while Rep. Jeff Hoover voted against.
But what do gun-owning Pulaski Countians think?
Rick Winstead, a local physical therapist, obtained his own concealed-carry permit a decade ago. He has kept it active ever since and plans to keep doing so even if it's no longer mandatory in Kentucky to carry.
"Currently, Kentucky's concealed carry permit is recognized by most other states, which makes traveling armed much more convenient," he said.
That's a potential problem seen by Lisa Begley with the law change -- how Kentuckians will fare in other states that remain restricted.
"If you go into another state and you don't have a permit, then you aren't covered," she said.
Begley is in fact a concealed-carry instructor -- one of the people you'd go to to get the permit you would have needed in the past. She and her husband Jack were among the first in the state to become instructors once Kentucky law allowed for that back in 1996.
"I was in the National Guard when I was young (joining at 17). I love to shoot," said Begley. "My husband is a retired gunsmith. He's very active in Second Amendment rights. He's followed this law from the beginning, before it was ever passed."
She offers a unique training experience as a woman, helping others like her to become more familiar with the weapon they may need to feel more comfortable in a world where assault on women is an ever-increasing topic. "I'm told by women that they feel more comfortable coming to my class because I'm a female instructor," she said.
As an instructor, Begley sees a lot of value in the knowledge offered by permit courses.
"I'm a little torn on it," she said of the new law. "If you've ever been through a concealed-carry class, you learn a lot about the laws that govern concealed-carry and what your legal liability is. I really like the idea of people being aware of the laws and aware of what their responsibilities are. I've had people go through the class and say, 'That's a lot of responsibility. I don't want to get a permit after all, that's too much responsibility."
While there is legal justification for using a firearm to defend yourself, it doesn't mean you're free of any legal entanglements if you do shoot someone in such a situation, said Begley.
"If someone breaks in and you shoot them, you will still need a lawyer," she said. "You could very well still be charged and it will still cost you money because you're going to need a lawyer."
Winstead said he's been around guns his "entire life" and has owned one about as long as he can remember. It's a right he takes very seriously.
"I was always taught to respect them and how to handle them properly," he said. "If I remember correctly, at the time one of the main reasons I wanted my permit was to legally carry a firearm concealed in my vehicle somewhere other than the glove compartment. When I tested, the law in Kentucky stated that the glove compartment was the only legal place to conceal a firearm. The law now states that a firearm can be carried in any factory installed compartment in a vehicle, whether the owner has a concealed carry permit or not."
Winstead remembers being surprised at "the simplicity of the process" to obtain my permit.
"Firstly, there was some time spent learning various laws, safety precautions, etc.," he said. "Secondly, some time was spent disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling the firearms. And finally, each student completed a basic shot placement drill toward a paper target at a short distance. I realize now that it seemed simple because all of these activities should not be difficult to a more experienced gun owner, but they would be necessary basic activities that any new firearm owner should master."
So what are the advantages of doing away with the permit? Simply put, making the process easier -- and more accessible for those who might otherwise find it difficult.
"Lawful concealment without a permit would present advantages in the way of saved time and fees for the permit process," said Winstead. "It would also be beneficial for elderly folks or those with physical impairments that may otherwise be unable to attend a course. It would also allow those that abruptly develop a need for protection, such as domestic violence victims, the ability to begin carrying a firearm concealed on there person immediately without having to wait on the permit process."
Begley said she acknowledges that not everyone can afford to go through the class and pay the money for a permit. In her eyes, however, the value of the instruction gained is greater than the cost.
"We just feel the training is worth it," she said. "The (other) perspective is that you're taking away rights of citizens to protect themsel es because the cost is prohibitive. ... Licenses are renewed every five years for $60, so that's a dollar a month. Maybe in the beginning it is cost-prohibitive (but) I don't think a dollar a month is outrageous."
Begley does feel that concealed-carry is a superior approach to carrying a gun out in the open -- in part because the sight of a firearm on someone in public can make those around them ill at ease.
"I feel like that's done for attention," she said of open-carrying. "I feel like if you are passionate about gun rights, you don't have the need for everybody to see your gun. ... I think it does make people uncomfortable. You don't need to draw attention to yourself. There's the saying about a good guy with a gun stopping the bad guy with a gun. If you're comfortable in your skin, there's no need for people to know (you have one) until the situation arises that you need it."
Begley does find the prospect of concealed-carrying to be a deterrent to crime. She said when the law was passed for that purpose back in the '90s, "people said there would be blood running in the streets and that just wasn't the case." Additionally, "You don't want to put your safety and the importance of your life into someone else's hands. If you have the ability to concealed-carry, you can protect yourself. So many politicians or movies stars advocating against this have armed bodyguards. They put their life into someone else's hands. When you carry concealed and are a responsible firearm owner, you don't have to."
Winstead also noted that the new law would not extend gun ownership to anyone that is currently excluded -- felons, those with mental illness, those with domestic violence backgrounds -- but simply removes the permit process for those that can legally posses a firearm currently.
But getting the permit and taking time to schedule the class and learn the laws shows someone is a law-abiding citizen, said Begley; "A criminal isn't going to take time to learn about the laws. They don't care about the laws."
Winstead said that there are "potential problems" with unlicensed concealed-carry.
"I feel that the majority of those holding concealed carry permits take the responsibility of carrying a weapon very seriously and have at the very least demonstrated their ability to handle a firearm in a relatively safe and effective manner," Most have performed research to some degree regarding safe carry practices, quality holsters, state laws, and have spent a fair amount of time on the range familiarizing themselves with their weapon.
"To be blunt, the downside of this law would be that most anyone, whether they have any training or knowledge of firearms, could make a purchase of a gun, a cheap holster, and be on their way with no idea how to safely operate it," he continued. "However, to be fair, Kentucky currently allows open carry without any type of permit, and criminals will carry if they want regardless of law, so a similar situation is very possible right now."
Winstead said the law change in Kentucky could cause gun ownership to increase.
"I believe that when presented the opportunity to discreetly arm themselves without the burden of paying fees and taking a course, the appeal of gun ownership will increase for many individuals," he said. "I see this as a positive if these individuals take the time to familiarize themselves with their firearm and safe carry practices."
Both Winstead and Begley said that being a responsible and safe gun owner means being familiar with the weapon and how it functions. Winstead said getting a quality holster that covers the trigger "is a must"; Begley advised keeping one's finger off the trigger unless one is ready to fire, and being aware of both one's target and what is beyond it; she recalled a story a friend told her recently about feeling a bullet "whiz by" in her yard, only to find out a neighbor was shooting at squirrels and "wasn't considering what was beyond his target." Begley also said to "keep your wits about you, no drinking, no fighting (while armed)."
"Ownership and operation of a firearm can not only be a life-saving decision, but it can also prove to be an enjoyable pastime in many forms," said Winstead. "Collectors, hunters, competitive shooters, and those of us that just enjoy being outside on the range under a sunny sky can all agree on that. However, I would urge anyone contemplating carrying a firearm to direct any questions or curiosities to a reputable trainer/teacher. It's generally not advisable to operate any machine or tool without proper training, and firearms are certainly no exception."