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Kentucky Gun Control Laws

The number of mass shootings in the United States brings issues of gun control and public safety back into the forefront of political discourse. Yet, Americans often don't agree on how to balance the rights of gun owners and the need to prevent gun violence. Kentucky's gun control laws remain less restrictive than many other states.

An understanding of firearms law in America today begins with federal law. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. This right appears in the Second Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this as an individual right to own firearms for self-defense at home and in public.

Federal law allows limited control over the ownership and use of firearms. It sets a baseline. It sets requirements for the legal manufacture, sale, possession, and use of firearms. Federal law also identifies people banned from having firearms, including felons and those addicted to or engaging in illegal use of drugs. Licensed federal firearms dealers must also perform background checks on those seeking to buy firearms.

Federal law supersedes state law in cases where federal and state laws intersect. So, in most circumstances, gun owners in Kentucky must follow federal laws like the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the National Firearms Act. States can choose to enact stricter laws.

Gun Control Laws in Kentucky

States regulate and restrict the purchase and use of firearms under specific gun control laws. Some states require a permit to buy a firearm and limit the possession of certain assault-style weapons and accessories. While the Commonwealth of Kentucky does not take either of those actions, it does ban armor-piercing bullets. It also prohibits felons from owning firearms. If you buy a firearm through a licensed dealer, the dealer must run a background check. Private sales between unlicensed persons are not subjected to a background check.

Kentucky gun laws reflect the state's history of limited regulation of firearms. In 2019, Kentucky adopted a "permitless carry" law. This law allows people who are 21 or older and otherwise able to lawfully possess a firearm to carry a concealed handgun or deadly weapon without a state permit. Like other states, Kentucky maintains a process for getting a concealed deadly weapon license (CDWL) for reciprocity. A CDWL is only available for residents of Kentucky who are 21 or older, the minimum age for possession of a handgun. There is no minimum age or permit process for carrying a shotgun or rifle.

To get a CDWL, a resident must apply at their local sheriff's office. The sheriff then sends the application to the Kentucky State Police for further review. Applications must contain the certificate showing the applicant completed the required firearms training. The State Police will conduct a background investigation before issuing a license.

State gun carry laws are subject to location restrictions. Kentucky law says guns are generally not allowed at the following locations:

  • Police stations and sheriff's offices
  • Detention facilities, prisons, and jails
  • Courthouses
  • Meetings of the General Assembly and its committees
  • Meetings of the governing body of a municipality, county, or special district
  • Areas designated primarily for consumption of alcoholic beverages in establishments licensed for that purpose
  • Elementary and secondary school facilities
  • Childcare facilities and daycare centers
  • Controlled areas of an airport
  • Locations prohibited by federal law
  • Private businesses where the business clearly provides notice (posting signs)

The state also grants local governments, urban-county and charter county governments, colleges and universities, and units of state government authority to prohibit firearms. These entities can limit carrying concealed handguns on properties they control. Private property owners can also ban carrying firearms onto their property.

Kentucky has a preemption statute. In most areas of firearms law, state law preempts local regulations. So, Louisville cannot pass an assault weapons ban if that conflicts with state law. Kentucky law also broadly allows carrying a firearm in a motor vehicle. Firearms in any enclosed container, compartment, or storage space installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle by its manufacturer are not deemed concealed.

Kentucky Gun Statutes

The table below highlights the specifics of Kentucky's gun control statutes. Most statutes prohibiting firearm use or possession by the public contain exemptions for law enforcement officers and military personnel.

Relevant statutes (laws)

Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS)

Illegal arms

Waiting period

There is no waiting period to buy a firearm in Kentucky.

Who may not own

The following people can't own a firearm in Kentucky:

  • People with a felony conviction, including youthful offenders, unless they get a full pardon or relief
  • People under 18 (except when hunting or with permission of a parent)
  • People who are prohibited from purchasing firearms under federal law. See 18 USC Section 922(g).

License required?

You don't need a license to buy or own a firearm in Kentucky.

Concealed carry license required?

No. If you are otherwise law-abiding and not disqualified from having a firearm under state and federal law, you don't need a license or permit to carry a concealed firearm in Kentucky.

Open carry allowed?

Yes. Open carry is allowed in Kentucky. But there are location restrictions.

Eligibility for a concealed carry license

In order to qualify for a concealed carry deadly weapon license (CCDW or CDWL), you must:

  • Be 21 years of age or older
  • Be eligible to own a firearm under Kentucky and federal law
  • Be a resident of the Commonwealth and one of the following:
  1. a U.S. citizen
  2. a U.S. citizen and member of the Armed Forces
  3. lawfully admitted to the U.S. and permitted by federal law to possess a firearm
  • Not been committed to a state or federal facility for the abuse of a controlled substance or been convicted of a misdemeanor violation of KRS 218A or similar laws within the last three years
  • Not chronically or habitually use alcoholic beverages, as evidenced by having two or more DUIs within the last three years
  • Not owe an arrearage equivalent to one year or more of child support payments
  • Have complied with a subpoena or warrant related to child support or paternity proceedings
  • Have not been convicted of assault in the fourth degree or making terroristic threats within the last three years
  • Complete a firearms safety course

Nonresidents can carry concealed weapons if they have a valid concealed carry permit from another state.

Machine gun laws

You can own a machine gun in Kentucky if you follow federal registration requirements.

Penalties for illegal firearm possession

  • Sale or transfer of a firearm to a convicted felon in a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail; a $500 fine; or both. It can also result in forfeiture of the firearm.
  • Illegal possession of armor-piercing ammunition is a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both.
  • Using armor-piercing ammunition while committing a felony crime is a Class D felony if the offense only involves possession; the possible penalties will increase if a person other than the defendant or their accomplice is injured or dies.
  • Illegal carrying of a concealed deadly weapon is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail; a fine of up to $500; or both. If the defendant has a prior felony conviction that involved use, possession, or display of a deadly weapon, it is a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both.
  • Possession of a defaced firearm is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail; a $500 fine; or both.
  • Possession of a firearm by a person with a felony conviction is a class D felony that carries a prison sentence of up to five years; a fine of up to $10,000; or both. (It's a class C felony if the firearm is a handgun, and the penalties increase to up to 10 years in prison; a $10,000 fine, or both.)
  • Unlawful possession of a handgun by a minor is a Class A misdemeanor (for the first offense) or Class D felony (for later offenses).
  • Unlawfully providing a handgun to a minor is a Class D felony.

Penalties for illegal possession on or near school grounds

Unlawful possession of a firearm on or near school grounds is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both.
Red flag law? No.
Universal background checks? No.
Stand your ground law? Yes. A defendant does not have a duty to retreat if otherwise authorized to use deadly force under the circumstances.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of the state law(s) you are reviewing.

Kentucky Gun Control Laws: Related Resources

Need Help With a Gun Matter?

Firearms statutes can vary based on where you live. Do you have more questions about Kentucky gun laws? To get legal help, consider talking with an experienced Kentucky attorney today.

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