FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) — The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over the implementation of the federal Gun Free School Zone Act and whether concealed carry permitholders in the commonwealth must abide by it.
The law, passed in 1990, prohibits any individual from possessing a firearm within a school zone, defined as any public, private, or parochial school, as well as the 1,000-foot surrounding area.
Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition Inc., or KC3, sued the city of Pikeville after it posted notices outside the Appalachian Wireless Arena, several parks, and a local athletic complex that individuals who carried guns near or inside the facilities could be subject to criminal penalties under federal law.
The arena is used to host various high school athletic events, while the other facilities are located within 1,000 feet of the city's elementary and high schools.
KC3's lawsuit claimed the city violated Kentucky Revised Statute 65.870, which prohibits any local government "from occupying any field of firearms law to regulate the possession, carry, or transportation of firearms within its city limits," and while a circuit court judge sided with the city, the Kentucky Court of Appeals eventually sided with the gun owners.
The appeals court determined the city's conduct "went far beyond a simple notification of the statutory language" and acted as a "blanket prohibition" on firearms, regardless of whether an individual had a valid concealed carry permit.
The city appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court and argued in its brief the appeals court erred when it ruled "the Gun Free School Zone Act exempts those persons with a valid Kentucky Concealed Carry license from its scope."
Pikeville claims Kentucky Revised Statute 237.110(16)(h) specifically prohibits any individual from taking a concealed weapon into a place where guns are prohibited under federal law, which would include a school zone.
"Clearly, the Gun Free School Zone Act did not anticipate states issuing permits to gun owners which would allow them to be strapped in school zones," the brief states.
KC3 argued in its brief the entire city of Pikeville could be considered a school zone at one time or another, and that the prohibition on concealed weapons should apply only "for the very limited duration of the school function."
It called the city's reliance on the Gun Free School Zone Act a "red herring," and pointed to language in the law itself that grants exemptions to individuals "licensed to [possess a firearm] by the state in which the school zone is located."
Attorney Russell Davis of the Pikeville law firm Baird and Baird argued Wednesday on behalf of the city and told the justices Pikeville schools' use of public parks and fields for athletics creates a "unique" situation.
"If concealed carry permitholders are allowed to carry weapons in school zones," Davis said, "that results in a significant safety issue to our schools."
The focus of the arguments shifted to standing after Justice Michelle Keller asked the city attorney about whether any individuals had been turned away from any "gun-free zones" because they possessed a weapon.
Davis said he was unaware of any such individual and told the court he knew no resident had ever been charged with violating the Gun Free School Zone Act.
Attorney Steve Jaeger of the Jaeger Firm in Erlanger, Kentucky, argued on behalf of KC3 and pointed out several individuals had signed affidavits stating they had been turned away from the city's arena because they attempted to take guns inside the facility.
Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter questioned whether the affidavits solved the problem, given that no specific individual had been aggrieved by the notices, and Keller agreed.
"I'm kind of struggling with standing here because we don't have a specific injury," she told Jaeger, "other than you'd like to stop an injury from happening."
Jaeger emphasized standing had not been raised by the city as an issue before the lower courts, and told the justices his client takes issue with more than the notices.
"They're allowed to post signs," he said. "We've never disputed that ... [but] it can't just implement a blanket prohibition on firearms."
In his rebuttal, Davis questioned the validity of his opposing counsel's claim.
"As for the 'blanket prohibition,'" the attorney said, "I'm not really sure what he's talking about. We're not saying the whole town is a school zone."
Davis told the court his client is focused primarily on the outdoor parks and fields used for school athletic events, and that the arena – used mainly for concerts and other private events – is typically governed by contracts signed by the promoters.
No timetable has been set for the court's decision.
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