No Legal, Legislative Backfire for Kentucky Lawmaker Whose Gun Went Off in Capitol

One day Kentucky after Gov. Steve Beshear praised the state for eschewing stereotypes, a state lawmaker accidentally discharged a gun in her office in the capitol building. 

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said in a statement that she accidentally fired her 380 Ruger semi-automatic pistol while attempting to unload it. The bullet struck a nearby bookshelf, according to Sgt. Jason Palmer of the Kentucky State Police’s legislative detail unit.  

No one was injured, Palmer said, and Rep. Jeff Greer was the only person present when the gun went off.

Combs says that she has had a concealed carry permit for “several years … to better protect my safety, as I travel widely and sometime at night.”

Of the incident, she told The Courier-Journal “I’m a gun owner. It happens.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo says state police ruled the incident an unintentional discharge, which would not result in criminal charges against Combs.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, says he does not think that state gun laws should change as a result of the accident. He says that while lawmakers are banned from bringing firearms onto the House floor, they should still be allowed to carry them elsewhere in the capitol building for safety reasons.

“I don’t see anything that needs to be changed,” he says. “Somebody’s going to have to convince me otherwise. I mean, it was an unintentional discharge. I think it’s good policy that people like Leslie, females, who work here late, have to go to their cars, go to functions, sometimes they’re traveling by themselves, [should] have the right to carry and protect themselves.”

Kentucky residents are allowed to openly carry firearms in the state capitol if they check in with law enforcement. 

The incident has drawn national attention, but Stumbo says he’s not worried it will reflect poorly on the commonwealth. 

“I don’t think so,” he says. “A lot of state have these [concealed carry] laws, our law mirrors most of what other states have.” So no, I don’t think so at all.”

Sgt. Palmer with the state police says that even if Combs did not possess a concealed carry license, which allows holders to carry their firearms under their clothing, the state’s constitutionally-protected open-carry law would have permitted her to do so, anyway, so long as the firearm was in plain sight on her body.

“I strongly support our Second Amendment rights and our state’s concealed-carry law,” Combs says. “And believe just as strongly  that gun safety and education must be part of that equation.”

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