Politics

In the wake of chaotic civil unrest across the country, a Kentucky lawmaker is filing a bill to keep protesters in the state from wearing masks or bringing weapons to public rallies.

A previous version would have exempted firearms from the weapons ban, but the bill has been revised.

Rep. Wesley Morgan, a Republican from Richmond, said he filed the legislation in response to reports of people wearing masks at protests around the country.

“They were masking their faces and stuff in order to create violence without being held accountable,” Morgan said.

The bill would prohibit people from wearing masks, hoods, helmets, protective gear and anything that “hides, conceals, or covers any portion of his or her face” at protests. It would also ban bringing “any deadly weapon or dangerous instrument” to protests.

Violating the proposed law would be a Class A misdemeanor.

The legislation was altered this week. An earlier version of the bill — published on the legislature’s website as late as Sept. 20 — banned weapons “other than firearms.”

Morgan said he wasn’t aware that the legislation had been changed, but original language exempted firearms because he said “it may be unconstitutional to prohibit someone from having a firearm because that is their second amendment right.”

“The reason why I initially left firearms out, I didn’t want to, was because they said it may be unconstitutional,” Morgan said.

This year, state legislatures across the country have been considering laws that regulate protests with a few new policies passing into law.

Several states — including West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio — already have mask regulations on the books, many of them enacted in response to the Ku Klux Klan.

But increasingly, old laws have been used to foil modern protesters — like when New York City police arrested Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in 2011 for wearing Guy Fawkes masks, citing an 1845 law that bans their use at gatherings unless it’s a “masquerade party or like, entertainment.”

The City of Pikeville passed an emergency ordinance banning masks and hoods ahead of a white nationalist rally earlier this year.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.