Weapons Charges in Kentucky

The basics of Kentucky's laws and restrictions on open and concealed carrying of guns and deadly weapons.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated March 03, 2023

Kentucky has some of the most permissive gun and weapon laws in the nation. It's considered a constitutional carry or permitless carry state. While Kentucky is one of the states with the fewest restrictions on buying, possessing, or carrying guns and weapons, rules still exist and violations can mean jail or prison time. Read on to learn more about Kentucky gun and deadly weapon laws, including who can carry and where.

Kentucky's Open and Concealed Carry Gun and Weapons Laws

Kentucky has long allowed adults to carry guns openly. The state has no firearm registration requirements. And as of 2019, most people who are 21 or older may carry concealed firearms and weapons—with or without a license—anywhere in the state where "licensed carry" is allowed.

Firearms include handguns, shotguns, rifles, and other weapons that will expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. Weapons that fall under Kentucky's concealed carry laws include knives (other than pocket and hunting knives), billy clubs, nightsticks, blackjacks, slapjacks, nunchaku karate sticks, death stars, and metal knuckles.

Kentucky Gun and Weapons Laws: Prohibited Persons and Places

Even with Kentucky's permissive gun laws, restrictions still exist regarding who can carry and where. For minors younger than 18, additional restrictions apply as to what type of firearm they can possess and carry.

Possession or Carrying of Guns and Weapons by Prohibited Persons

Kentucky law specifically authorizes people to carry concealed guns or other deadly weapons, as long as they're at least 21 years old and aren't subject to legal prohibitions on gun possession.

Convicted felons are the only individuals who are specifically barred from having any guns under Kentucky law. Felons can be charged with a class D felony in Kentucky for having a long gun or a class C felony for having a handgun.

Minors. Kentucky doesn't restrict minors younger than 18 from possessing rifles or shotguns. However, minors aren't allowed to have handguns except in certain circumstances, such as when they have a parent's permission and are on private property, are hunting or target shooting, or are attending a hunter's or firearms safety class. Minors may be charged with a class A misdemeanor in Kentucky for a first violation of the handgun prohibition or a class D felony for each subsequent offense.

Federal prohibitions on firearm possession extend to a greater number of people, including those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or subject to domestic violence restraining orders, illegal drug users, people who've been committed to a psychiatric institution, former military members who've been dishonorably discharged, and anyone in the country illegally or under a nonimmigrant visa.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 237.020, 237.060, 237.109, 527.040, 527.100; 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2022).)

Prohibited Places for Open and Concealed Carry

With exceptions for certain authorized persons (such as law enforcement officers), below are some of the prohibited locations for carrying a concealed firearm or weapon. Some restrictions apply to open carry as well.

Judicial, public safety, and other facilities. Kentucky law restricts concealed carrying of firearms (with or without a license) in the following locations:

  • police stations and sheriff's offices
  • jail, prisons, and detention facilities
  • courthouses and court proceedings
  • government meetings
  • bars and establishments that serve alcohol on site
  • childcare and daycare centers
  • airport areas subject to security measures, and
  • places prohibited by federal law

Unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon is a class A misdemeanor, but the penalty increases to a class D felony if the defendant has a prior felony conviction involving a deadly weapon.

Bars. In addition to the concealed carry restriction for bars (listed above), Kentucky law prohibits openly carrying a loaded firearm anywhere alcoholic beverages are sold by the drink. A person convicted of a first offense faces a class A misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses are class D felonies.

Schools. On K-12 school property (including busses), it's illegal to carry any firearm or other deadly weapon, openly or concealed. Violations are charged as class D felonies. Exceptions include nonstudent adults who keep the gun in a vehicle and don't brandish the weapon and students who are required to carry weapons as part of a class or a school team or club.

Option for post-secondary campuses. Colleges and other post-secondary educational institutions have the right to restrict the possession of deadly weapons on their property.

Option for government buildings and private businesses. State and local governments, as well as private businesses, may prohibit the carrying of concealed deadly weapons in their buildings.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 237.115, 244.125, 244.990, 527.020, 527.070 (2022).)

Other Kentucky Gun and Weapons Laws

The following are additional restrictions on guns and deadly weapons found in Kentucky law.

Providing Guns to Children or Felons

Selling or transferring a gun to a felon is a class A misdemeanor.

It's a class D felony in Kentucky to provide a handgun (either intentionally or recklessly) to someone under the age of 18. It's also a class D felony for a parent to permit their minor child to have a handgun knowing that:

  • there's a serious risk the child will use it to commit a felony, or
  • the minor has been convicted of a violent offense.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 237.070, 527.110 (2022).)

Defacing Guns

It's a class A misdemeanor in Kentucky to deface a gun (such as by filing off the serial number) or to possess a defaced firearm. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 527.030, 527.050 (2022).)

Brandishing Weapons

While Kentucky doesn't have a statute specific to brandishing weapons, a person could face charges for menacing or wanton endangerment.

Wanton endangerment charges apply when a person's conduct "creates a substantial danger of death or physical injury to another person." A Kentucky court held that "pointing of a gun, whether loaded or unloaded (provided there is reason to believe the gun may be loaded) at any person" meets this definition. Depending on the defendant's conduct, wanton endangerment can be a class A misdemeanor or class D felony. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 508.060, 508.070 (2022); Key v. Com., 840 S.W.1d 827 (Ky. Ct. App. 1992).)

Menacing refers to intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of physical injury. This offense is a class B misdemeanor. A court held that waving a weapon at someone (even if unloaded) constitutes menacing. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 508.050 (2022); Graham v. Com., 667 S.W.2d 697 (Ky. Ct. App. 1983).)

Sword and Knife Laws

Kentucky's concealed carry laws include knives. A person planning to carry a concealed knife (except an ordinary pocket or hunting knife) must obey restrictions placed on carrying "deadly weapons." The law, however, isn't clear on whether a sword is considered a knife, and it doesn't appear that any Kentucky appellate courts have taken up the matter.

One law, in particular, permits the wearing of swords in public drills and parades by members of veterans' service organizations and individuals participating in historical military reenactments. Under this law, wearing of sword does not require the governor's approval. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 38.440 (2022).)

Getting Legal Assistance

If you've been charged with a weapons violation, you should talk to a Kentucky criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can explain how the law applies to your situation, let you know what you might expect in criminal proceedings, and help you present the best defense possible.

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