Legislative colleagues split on possible need to impose restrictions.
FRANKFORT, KY. — The accidental firing of a handgun in a lawmaker’s office ignited debate Wednesday over whether guns should be restricted on the campus of Kentucky’s State Capitol.
Rep. Leslie Combs accidentally fired her handgun Tuesday afternoon while unloading it in her office in the Capitol Annex — the building adjacent to the Capitol that houses legislative offices and committee meeting rooms.
“I’m a gun owner. It happens,” she said Wednesday, adding that she was following safety precautions as she unloaded her Ruger 380 semi-automatic handgun. No one was injured.
Combs said she has a concealed carry permit, allowing her to carry the gun, which she said she often carries in her purse.
Kentucky State Police Sgt. Jason Palmer, commander of the legislative security branch, said a legislator, or anyone, with a concealed carry permit can bring a loaded weapon to the Capitol or annex and be allowed in if that person has his or her permit.
He said no charges would be filed in the Combs incident, which occurred about 2:30 p.m. and was reported to state police about 4:25. “No evidence of criminal acts were observed,” he said, adding that most of the bullet fragments were recovered and there was no sign that any fragment traveled outside the room.
Combs, a Democrat who’s served in the House since 2007, said Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, was the only other person in the office when the gun fired.
Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham came into the room after the gun fired to ask if Combs and Greer were OK. “I was in my office talking to people and heard a bang. … We went over to the office and they (Combs and Greer) said, ‘We’re fine. We’re fine.’ ”
The only damage Graham said he saw was where the bullet struck the base of a bookcase.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said that former Gov. Paul Patton banned concealed guns from the Capitol in 1996 after the General Assembly passed a concealed-carry bill. But Patton’s order was reversed by the 1998 General Assembly.
“So if you have a concealed-carry permit it’s my understanding you can carry the weapon as you would in these buildings,” Stumbo said.
Gov. Steve Beshear’s spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said that in 1998, “The General Assembly insisted that the legislators themselves are the only agents who may alter the policy regarding carrying concealed deadly weapons in state office buildings. … To our knowledge, that is where the law stands today.”
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, was surprised to learn of the incident. “I think we need to really look at whether or not we’re going to allow guns around here. I tried to prohibit them several years ago, and it did not meet with success.”
Marzian said, “I’m certainly not wanting to take guns away from people, but maybe keep them in our cars if people have them, to not bring them around to where there are going to be children walking up around the halls.”
Graham said he favored Patton’s ban. “I support the idea of everyone being able to have their own guns, but I think there are places like here they should not be allowed.”
But Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said the incident is no cause to impose restrictions. “Guess she needs to be more careful,” Lee said. “… I don’t have a problem with her having a gun, but you need to be careful using one.”
Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said she did not favor restrictions either. “As a responsible gun owner I don’t want to see my Second Amendment rights impugned,” Webb said.
Palmer said there are no restrictions in state law from anyone carrying a a weapon openly into the Capitol without a permit. “We once had a gentleman who said he wanted to come to the Capitol with a military-style weapon. Luckily he never showed up,” Palmer said.
In such circumstances, Palmer said, security officers would have to use their discretion in deciding whether such a person posed a safety risk and should be allowed inside. “Every situation is different,” he said.
Palmer said he considers the Combs case closed.