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Bill Straub: Welcome to Tombstone (aka Kentucky) where the right to bear arms is truly unlimited

On March 11, a gentleman named Larry Walters got into an argument, subject unknown, with another patron at Uncle 7’s Bourbon Bar & Grille, an establishment off Clays Mill Road in the southern part of Lexington, leading to a physical altercation.

According to police, Walters took exception to the course of the disagreement and felt compelled to draw a firearm. The 69-year-old veteran began firing, somewhat indiscriminately, striking two unfortunates and forcing other customers of said establishment to understandably seek cover.

One victim, the other participant in the dispute, subsequently died as a result of his injuries. The other is said to be recovering. Walters was charged with murder, among other things, and was placed under arrest.

In a court hearing to set bail, Walter’s attorney revealed that the arrestee, Mr. Walters, is being treated for a cyst on his brain. Whether this played a role in regard to his rather extreme response to an opposing argument will presumably be left to a jury at a later date.

Ironically, on that very day, March 11, Gov. Matt “Yosemite Sam’’ Bevin, signed into law a new wrinkle that will render it even easier for the likes of Walters and others of his ilk to pack heat, which undoubtedly will lead to other tragedies like the one that occurred at Uncle 7’s on a late Monday afternoon.

The Kentucky General Assembly, in its infinite wisdom, decided during its historically terrible session this year to let every Tom, Dick, and Larry carry a sidearm wherever they might happen to be, leading to speculation that perhaps it would be wise to change the name of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to Tombstone.

Previously, Kentucky law required an individual to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon and undergo some form of training so they could at least tell one end of a gun from another. That is no longer necessary. Now, if an individual is at least 21 years of age and doesn’t have a criminal record, he or she can mutate into Annie Oakley.

In Kentucky, in the year of our Lord 2019, this is considered progress.

Apparently, the old law wasn’t stupid enough for the Commonwealth’s legislators, although what necessitated the change remains somewhat unclear. Did some raving lunatic get turned down for a permit, thus depriving him of that gentle feeling of carrying a side iron on his hip? Who knows?

Some proponents are using the tired, old argument that the new law will somehow benefit law-abiding citizens. The problem here, of course, is that most folks are law-abiding citizens -– until they’re not. Plenty of once law-abiding folks have used guns for what turned out to be nefarious purposes. Unless the Commonwealth has contracted the services of Nostradamus – presumably at a salary commensurate to the $375,000 shelled out to Bevin’s pal, state information technology chief Charles Grindle – to foretell who are turning bad and who’s not, the whole shebang seems a little dubious.

Supporters like Saint Matt the Divine of New Hampshire simply used the old trope of citing the Second Amendment to the Constitution as the Holy Grail.

“It simply says that people do indeed have the right to keep and bear arms,” Bevin told Gray TV, which owns several stations in the Commonwealth. “For those people who are offended at this idea and don’t like it, there are other places in America where they could live.”

Very magnanimous of the governor to urge residents to move elsewhere if they dare disagree with him. That’s considered leadership these days.

Gun nuts adore using the Second Amendment as their be all and end all on the right to bear arms, maintaining some sort of right for a lamebrain who doesn’t know a Colt .45 from a bazooka. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its Heller decision in 2008, clearly stated that the right to bear arms is not unlimited and that guns and gun ownership are indeed, subject to regulation.

The high court, in Heller, found that individuals maintain a natural right of self-defense. But the decision, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the deity of the right, also said this:

“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

In other words, reasonable regulations are still viable under the Second Amendment, although, as Scalia noted, “since this case represents this Court’s first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field.”

So it’s obviously conceivable that some restrictions on concealed carry are legit – most states have them. Some states prohibit the practice altogether.

But Kentucky knows better.

This entire debate brings to the fore yet again the Commonwealth’s almost non-existent gun control laws, which do a disservice to the public. Data clearly shows that states with the most stringent gun regulations suffer fewer shootings.

According to the Boston University School of Public Health, the rate of deaths by firearms per 100,000 individuals in states with lax gun laws can be greater than four times higher than those states with the nation’s strictest gun control laws, places like New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

That’s not speculation. That’s fact.

Just as an example, in 2016, the year that provides the most recent statistics, gun deaths in Louisiana per 100,000 came to 21.4. in Massachusetts it was 3.4.

Proponents of lax gun laws are fond of pointing at Chicago, which has experienced a high incidence of gun-related deaths in recent years even though Illinois has fairly strict gun control laws. Regardless, the rate per 100,000 in the Land of Lincoln is 11.7. The Kentucky rate is 17.5. In the Bluegrass, a shameful 772 individuals lost their lives at the end of a gun in 2016.

So what do you say we just make it easier to carry a rod around?

The new conceal carry law is just one of the more ridiculous results of what has emerged as perhaps the worst legislative session in history. Lawmakers also passed an obviously unconstitutional abortion ban, found it necessary to kick solar panel users in the rear end for the benefit of their pals in the utilities industry, and observed a grand, old General Assembly tradition of making a pay-off to the banks.

And you thought the Democrats were terrible.

I realize I’m speaking to the hand here. For reasons I’ve never understood, a lot of folks in the Commonwealth seem to place greater importance on possessing a gun than on life itself. People are dying because of lax guns laws, not thriving. But the people in power simply don’t seem to care. This is just the latest example.

But it’s good to remember Clarence Darrow’s old axiom, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.”

And so it goes.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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