Owensboro resident and attorney Clay Wilkey spoke at Tuesday’s City commission meeting in opposition to this weekend’s Midwest Owensboro Gun Show, which will be held at the Owensboro Sportscenter Sept. 21-22. Wilkey, who’s been outspoken about the gun show due to its close proximity to a school, along with the violence that’s occurred both locally and nationally, told City commissioners that it’s very possible those who attend the gun show will be violating federal law.
As the Sportscenter is owned by the City, Wilkey asked commissioners to discontinue this gun show and others that may follow it. Wilkey has spent the past several weeks discussing the upcoming event with local, state and federal leaders.
“I’m expecting a great turn out, quite frankly,” Wilkey said of the upcoming gun show attendance. “I had asked to have this item on the agenda at the last regularly scheduled meeting — I got a very well-written response from the City attorney indicating that the City’s hands were tied.”
As stated by Wilkey, City Attorney Steve Lynn found that KRS Chapter 65.870 precludes the city from taking any action that might infringe upon someone’s right to carry or purchase guns and/or ammunition.
However, Wilkey said he sent City officials a written draft for a professional opinion from Attorney General Andy Beshear. This draft was sent to Lynn, City Manager Nate Pagan, Mayor Tom Watson, City Commissioners Larry Magliner, Pamela Smith-Wright, Larry Conder and Jeff Sanford last Friday, Wilkey said.
“Again, my goal here is not to ambush or play ‘gotcha,’ but to see where our elected officials are on what I consider to be the public safety issue of our time,” Wilkey said of gun activity and violence. “My hope is that you folks that we’ve elected to lead this community, will help lead this community and reach out to the attorney general and ask, ‘What exactly does KRS Chapter 65 mean? Can it preclude us as a City from refusing to contract with individuals we don’t want to contract with?’”
To this question, Wilkey said he didn’t know the answer, and that he wasn’t sure Lynn knew for certain either. However, in speaking with the attorney representing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, he believes several aspects of, and people associated with this weekend’s gun show will be violating federal law.
“What I do know is that after having a conversation with counsel with the Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms — I think we’ve got a problem this weekend,” he said. “The Sportscenter is within a thousand feet of Owensboro Catholic High School’s property and, while the City itself is not liable, any purveyors of guns that are in the Sportscenter that do not have those guns locked in a container or affixed to a gun rack are in violation of federal law.”
Wilkey said it’s time that the people who attend the years-long gun show begin complying with federal law after years of non-compliance.
“I know we’ve got some representatives with the police department here, I know the flex team stays pretty busy, and there will be plenty of guns down at the Sportscenter this weekend. There will be plenty of people in violation of federal law, and I invite you guys to be proactive, and to meet the people at the door and remind them of what the law states because I don’t want anyone going to jail, but I want the laws to be complied with,” Wilkey said. “I think the City as we are operating is complicit in the sale of firearms to anybody who wants to pay $6 and carries a Kentucky ID, and we are long past the time that we should have learned that that’s not responsible.”
In response to Wilkey’s testimony, the City attorney said he has great respect for Wilkey as an attorney and person, but that he still doesn’t believe any federal laws will be broken this weekend.
“I read the statement [from Wilkey], and I completely understand it, but there are exceptions to that that I think folks attending the gun show will be protected by,” Lynn said. “There are exceptions to the gun-free school zone act.”
According to Lynn, the statute regarding guns near school zones does say firearms must be safely contained when within 1,000 feet of school property, but that a safe and secure location includes locking a gun in the trunk of a vehicle. Even more, a statute was passed in 2016 which prohibits local governments from enacting laws that deal with firearms sales and possession.
“KRS 65.870 — basically, the Kentucky General Assembly changed that statute in 2016 to tell the cities and the counties that only the General Assembly can make laws on the possession, sale, use, carry of firearms, and that cities and counties are prohibited from enacting any ordinances, rules or policies on guns,” Lynn said. “Not only did they prohibit that, but anything we had on the books — we had to appeal that.”
When this issue of the gun show arose, Lynn told commissioners that if the City commission was to pass an ordinance prohibiting a gun show at the Sportscenter, specifically, they’d be violating the law themselves.
Though Wilkey said his talks with the ATF revealed the possibility of federal law being broken, Lynn said his own talks with the federal organization painted a different picture.
“I’ve been in talks with them as well to make sure we’re completely compliant with the law,” Lynn said.