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Kentucky Supreme Court upholds ban on concealed guns in school zones

The court found gun owners lacked standing to challenge the ban because they did not prove it caused them to suffer any real harm.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) — Without evidence that individuals carrying concealed weapons have been denied entry into venues defined as gun-free zones under federal law, a gun rights advocacy group's lawsuit must be dismissed in its entirety, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition Inc., or KC3, challenged Pikeville's enforcement of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 through a state court lawsuit and claimed the city could not enact a "blanket ban" on firearms at certain public locations just because of their proximity to schools.

While the court in which the case was filed agreed with the city and granted its motion for summary judgment, the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed and ruled private renters of certain facilities, including the Appalachian Wireless Arena, could allow attendees of their events to carry concealed weapons if they were properly licensed.

The case was argued before the commonwealth's high court in February, during which several justices focused on whether KC3 had any evidence of licensed individuals being turned away from events.

During arguments, Russell Davis, attorney for the city, told the court he was unaware of any individuals being turned away for possession of a weapon, and Steven Jaeger, attorney for KC3, responded similarly to the court's inquiries.

This deficiency in evidence was the central and only determining factor in the court's decision to dismiss KC3's complaint in its entirety, and the justices made no determinations on the merits of the advocacy group's claims.

Justice Christopher Nickell wrote the court's opinion and emphasized that for KC3 to establish associational standing on behalf of its members, it would have to provide more than "vague allegations that a member has suffered injury" and would instead be required to "specifically identify the member whose alleged injury the association seeks to vindicate through judicial proceedings."

Nickell was blunt in his assessment of KC3's pleadings.

"None of the numbered counts in the complaint contain any allegations of concrete injury to KC3 or its members beyond the alleged unlawfulness of the city's stated polices," he wrote.

Nickell stressed that members' vague fears about carrying a concealed weapon to one of the sites because of the enforcement of the law cannot be used to establish standing, while claims that unnamed individuals were denied entry to the Expo Center lacked the specificity to be used as a concrete injury.

"KC3 acknowledges no affidavits were attached to the complaint concerning the alleged injury to the unidentified members," he said. "And, our review of the record discloses no additional evidence concerning the identity of any allegedly injured members, nor any particularized injury purportedly sustained."

"Any as of yet unconstrained desire of KC3's unidentified members to access the various sites without fear their rights to carry firearms will be denied is simply too speculative to establish standing under our precedents," Nickell continued. "Moreover, the unsupported allegation concerning an actual denial of entry to unidentified members lacks sufficient specificity to establish associational standing."

Therefore, Nickell explained, the Pike County Circuit Court should have dismissed the action without prejudice, while the appeals court's award of attorney fees to the city as prevailing party should also be rescinded.

Justice Kelly Thompson dissented from the decision of the other six members of the court. In his dissenting opinion, Thompson argued a decision on the merits is required because neither party raised the issue of standing prior to the presentation of the case before the Supreme Court.

"It is my belief that the number one job of the Supreme Court of Kentucky is to adjudicate disputes between our citizens," he said. "This dispute is ripe for adjudication. It requires a complex, well briefed legal analysis of the interplay in the conflicts between local law, state law, and federal law on an important subject matter. I disagree with the majority's decision to avoid wading into this controversy by at the last minute choosing to dismiss for subject matter jurisdiction."

Neither party's attorney immediately responded to a request for comment.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Education, Law, Regional

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