FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Backed by a powerful gun-rights group, a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or training was passed by the Kentucky Senate on Thursday.
The measure has the blessing of the National Rifle Association but was denounced by an activist who noted that Senate action on the bill came on the anniversary of a shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 students and staff members dead.
"This is how our state decided to mark that anniversary, was to pass more dangerous gun legislation and do the bidding of the NRA and the gun lobby," Connie Coartney, who is with the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told reporters.
The bill sailed through the Republican-led Senate on a 29-8 vote a few hours after it was advanced by a Senate committee. The measure now goes to the GOP-controlled House.
Under the measure, Kentuckians able to lawfully possess a firearm could conceal their weapons without a license. A gun-carrying permit now carries a fee and a training requirement.
The bill's supporters said Kentuckians already can carry weapons openly without any training. But if they carry a gun under a coat, they currently need a permit.
Art Thomm, state director for the NRA, told lawmakers earlier Thursday that the measure "simply decriminalizes wearing a coat."
"Under the law, mere possession of a firearm is not a crime," he told the Senate committee. "But yet, as soon as you put on a coat and cover that firearm, you become, under what some believe, considerably more dangerous. I can't understand the reasoning behind that."
Supporters continued that same theme during Senate debate on the bill. Republican Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard, the bill's lead sponsor, said the proposed law change would protect law-abiding gun owners from criminal liability "if they happen to put their gun in their pocket."
Smith said the measure would make no changes regarding who can carry concealed weapons and where and when they can possess the weapons.
Speaking against the bill, GOP Sen. Danny Carroll of Paducah stressed the importance of firearm safety training, adding that it was valuable to him during his law enforcement career. He questioned making a policy change that drops the training requirement for people wanting to carry concealed weapons when some of them "have no idea how to shoot a gun."
"When you have a tool in your hand that has the ability to take another person's life, there is an obligation to understand exactly what that tool is capable of," Carroll said.
Carroll, who described himself as an NRA member and staunch gun-rights supporter, voted against the bill. He said the country has become too divided on the gun issue.
"We have got to come to a middle ground on this issue," he said. "And I do think that compromise and common sense has got to be used as we come to a common ground."
Carroll's district in western Kentucky was hit by a gun violence tragedy last year when two students were killed in a shooting at a school in Marshall County.
As the scene shifts to the House, Coartney said members of her group will make their voices heard against the measure.
"We absolutely will be back to fight these bills wherever they're heard," she told reporters.
The legislation is Senate Bill 150.