Kentucky police officers find themselves between a rock and a hard place after the state’s “open carry” firearm law banned permit requirements in 2019.
The law, which allows law-abiding citizens to carry a firearm in public without a permit, has put police in a difficult position.
The dilemma officers face was most recently illustrated after 26-year-old Carmon Tussey was arrested for carrying a semi-automatic weapon near a bar in Louisville, Kentucky, which caused people to flee in panic.
Tussey was later charged with terroristic threatening, wanton endangerment and disorderly conduct and could face up to 20 years in prison.
However, Tussey’s lawyer asserts that he was engaged in “perfectly legal behavior,” according to the 2019 constitutional carry law.
“Kentucky is one of the states that allows a citizen to ‘open carry’ – meaning it is perfectly legal to walk down a public street carrying a loaded gun out in the open,” Tussey’s Attorney Greg Simms stated.
Officers said there were other factors involved in the case, citing the type of weapon Tussey carried, the way he was holding it and the location.
Police also confirmed that a witness reported that Tussey was involved in a verbal altercation just before the incident.
According to the arrest citation, Tussey told police that he was “returning to shoot” the people he fought with at the bar.
Simms argued that police had no legal right to arrest Tussey when they did and is confident he can win his case.
The situation highlights the dilemma police face in states with open carry laws.
Often, officers have to make split-second decisions as to whether an individual carrying a gun in public has violent intentions.
Gun control advocates argue that permitless carry laws increase dangers for citizens and police officers.
“It’s no secret why so many law enforcement leaders are speaking out against permitless carry laws,” said gun control advocate John Feinblatt, president of the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety.
“Allowing anyone to carry a gun anywhere makes the job of a police officer harder and more dangerous.”
Gun violence continues to be a major issue in the country and the sole cause behind a majority of killings.
Meanwhile, states continue to pass constitutional carry laws eliminating the need to obtain a permit before carrying a gun in public.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a law earlier this year to remove the permit requirement for carrying a handgun in public. The new law took effect on July 1.
“We’re still expected to enforce our laws and take those guns off the streets and make sure people who aren’t supposed to have them don’t,” Indiana State Police spokesman Captain Ron Galaviz said. “It’s just an extra couple of steps in that process.”
Police say that under the new law, they cannot immediately confiscate a gun or demand a permit during traffic stops.
Importantly, police are sometimes stumped when responding to complaints about people armed in public.
In Boise, Idaho, police received multiple calls about a “man with a gun” in regards to 27-year-old Jacob Bergquist, a gun rights advocate who often carried a weapon in public and around places that ban firearms, such as hospitals.
Idaho passed a law allowing permitless carry in 2016. However, the law states that property owners can ban firearms from their property.
Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee said his officers had no grounds to arrest Bergquist until he shot and killed a 26-year-old security guard and another man and wounded four others.
Bergquist later died in a gunfight with police officers.
Shannon West, a training supervisor at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training, said officers have “got a very quick decision to make … as to whether or not to intervene, when to intervene and how.”
There have also been cases where open carry laws have been praised for preventing deadly rampages, such as when an Indiana man legally shot and killed a gunman at a mall.
However, the dilemma still stands.
“But when you eliminate the permit requirement, then anyone can carry a firearm on the streets, and it becomes harder for police and for others to figure out whether that person has bad intent or not,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told PBS.