Amid calls across the nation for stricter gun control since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 — and rampant resistance against such action — a Kentucky pro-firearm group continues working to eradicate any local gun regulations.

Since the 2012 passing of Kentucky House Bill 500, which strengthened Kentucky's gun law preemption statute, the group has been the force behind changes in regulations in more than a dozen localities across Kentucky.

In Richmond, the group already has been the driving force behind the taking down of signs in the city's parks and swimming pool that prohibited the carrying of guns at those locations, by pointing out to city officials that the prohibition violates the state law.

Now, the group, Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition, Inc., commonly referred to as KC3, is targeting a Richmond city ordinance that regulates what types of records pawn shops and other second-hand stores must keep.

The group, a 501 (c)(4) non-profit corporation, filed suit Feb. 27 in Madison Circuit Court against the city, also naming Mayor Jim Barnes, city manager Richard Thomas, and the city's board of commissioners as defendants.

KC3 vice president Stephen McBride said he contacted city officials about the ordinance, and was told it wouldn't be changed.

"The City of Richmond continues to ignore the state law, ignore the advice of the Ky. League of Cities and ignore the many, many requests of KC3 to come into compliance without any expensive legal action," McBride said in a written statement. "They have left us no choice and now the taxpayers of Richmond will bear the expense."

But city attorney Garrett Fowles said he doesn't see the ordinance as an attempt at gun control.

It was enacted as a theft deterrent and to provide a better means for law enforcement to track stolen items, he said.

Fowles said the city has worked with KC3. After being contacted by a group representative about the signs in the city's parks and swimming pool, Fowles researched the statute.

"To my surprise, I discovered (the ban) was in violation," he said.

The signs were taken down, he said. But he doesn't see the pawn shop ordinance as being in the same vein.

The ordinance, passed by the city's board of commissioners in 2012, requires pawn shops and a variety of other stores that take in second-hand goods to obtain a photograph of the person selling or pawning an item, a copy of the customer's ID, and a photo of the item itself. Among the more than two dozen items listed in the ordinance is firearms. The ordinance also requires that any serial numbers, model numbers and identifying marks be noted in a description of the item.

By putting those requirements on a firearms purchase, the ordinance violates the state law (KRS.65.870), Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition asserts. The statute prohibits localities from regulating guns in any way, including the purchase of firearms.

"The city ordinance uses the word purchase about 11 times," McBride said. "The purchase of firearms is something they cannot regulate."

KC3 has a clear mission. In 2013, after the amended state law took effect, the group began identifying localities with what its members saw as offending ordinances and rules and file suit. It filed 14 in that first year, 13 of which settled — by the locality rescinding the offending regulation — before going to court.

In 2016, the group brought about the rescinding of an ordinance in Danville that prohibited the carrying of firearms in cemeteries. The city commission also amended the language of an ordinance that prohibited citation officers from carrying firearms unless they completed training. The Louisville Arena Authority ended its complete ban on firearms at the KFC Yum Center after KC3 contacted members. The authority now allows individual event agents to decide whether to allow the carrying of firearms.

The amendment to the state law the group insists the city's ordinance violates (KRS.65.870) was strengthened in 2012, to allow those filing suit to recoup attorney's expenses. It also strips government officials of immunity, and calls for possible misdemeanor criminal charges against officials found to be in violation.

The amendment makes it possible, and worthwhile, for his group to take their cases to court if necessary, McBride said.

But he asserted that filing suit is the group's last resort.

"We try everything we can to work with cities before going to court," McBride said.

KC3 contacted Richmond officials in November 2017, through its attorney, according to the lawsuit. Three months later, McBride initiated a sale of a firearm to a Richmond pawn shop. The clerk agreed to buy the gun for $150; as the sale was finalized, the record-keeping requirements came up. (The lawsuit states the clerk pointed to a posted sign that stated a city ordinance requires the shop obtain a photo of the pawner or seller, a photo of the item, and a photo of the customer's ID.)

"Because of those requirements, the sale, purchase and transfer of the firearm was cancelled," the suit states. The complaint goes on to state that the failure of the sale to go through "adversely affected" McBride, giving KC3 standing to file suit.

Fowles said the impetus of the 2012 ordinance was a request by then Richmond Police chief Larry Brock, who told Fowles that the state law governing pawn shop records did not provide enough detail on what records must be kept. The state statute requires "a full description" of the item.

Brock showed Fowles copies of actual pawn shop records that read simply "men's diamond ring," or ".22 rifle," the city attorney said.

Richmond Police chief James Ebert, who worked with another agency before joining the city's police department, recalls similar pawn shop records. They made it nearly impossible to trace stolen goods, he said.

Richmond's stronger regulation on pawn shops has helped Richmond police track stolen items, the chief said.

"It's been a very good investigative tool," he said.

The broad descriptions seen before the ordinance also can be unfair to pawn shop owners, Ebert said.

"If I take someone in there who's had a ring stolen, and all it says is diamond ring, that person can say it's theirs whether it is or not," he said.

In a suit against the City of Hillview that went to trial, KC3 won, with the court deciding the city's ordinance dealing with firearms on city-owned property violated the state statute.

KC3's request for almost $8,500 in attorney's fees, however, was initially denied. The lower court declared the group not entitled to attorney's fees, and stated the amount was "far in excess of reasonable." An appellant court disagreed on entitlement, and sent the case back to the lower court to decide on a reasonable fee.

Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition is being represented in the lawsuit against the City of Richmond by Erlanger attorney Steven D. Jaeger.

Find the city ordinance dealing with pawn shop records here:$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:richmond_ky (click on Chapter 128 on the side.)

Reach Kelly McKinney at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @kellymckinney18.

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