The city of Pikeville can continue banning guns inside the Appalachian Wireless Arena, though it must pass an ordinance to stop those with a concealed carry permit from bringing firearms into the building, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled last week.
The arena, formerly known as the Eastern Kentucky Expo Center, had a sign posted disallowing firearms and a note on its website about the venue’s policy. The Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition filed a complaint against the City of Pikeville, the arena’s operator, in 2018.
The Appalachian Wireless Arena has 7,000 seats with a 24,000 sq. foot arena floor, along with a ballroom, conference rooms and concessions.
Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition said in its complaint that members “have been denied entry into the East Ky. Expo Center solely based on their lawful possession of firearms.”
The Appalachian Wireless Arena is located in a Gun-Free School Zone, which prohibits open-carry firearms within 1,000 feet of a school. Pikeville Elementary and a preschool at Pikeville United Methodist Church are withing 1,000 feet of the arena, which is also used for high school games.
The coalition argued the Kentucky General Assembly has prevented local government from establishing any rule, policy, procedure, ordinance, or “other form of executive or legislative action” that prohibits or otherwise regulates firearms, according to KRS 65.870.
The coalition also argued the city did not adopt any ordinances regulating firearms, and its notice was inappropriately given to the public via its website, posted signs and rental agreements.
Pike County Circuit Court sided with the city and dismissed the complaint in March 2020, but the coalition filed an appeal. The Kentucky Court of Appeals said the city’s ban on open-carry firearms was legal, but stated in its opinion that a city’s legislative body must enact laws prohibiting concealed firearms on property owned, leased or controlled by a city.
City Attorney Russell Davis said the city would adopt the court’s recommendations.
Davis said in an interview that if 50 people were carrying a firearm at a 6,000 person event, it would not be a good idea, especially with sporting events where tensions are high. Davis also said many performing artists want the venue to prohibit firearms.
“We agree with (the City) that individual renters at the Expo Center have the right to dictate whether their guests are permitted to carry weapons while attending such renter’s events and to otherwise control the renter’s security at its events,” the opinion stated.
Davis noted that Rupp Arena in Lexington is similar to Appalachian Wireless Arena in that it is owned by the city.
Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition also raised issue with the city banning concealed and open-carry firearms in RVs, vehicle and on a person at the City’s RV Park.
“The Defendants have no authority under the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to ban possessing, carrying, storing, or transporting concealed or open-carry firearms in a city park,” the complaint stated.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the coalition that firearms can be stored in a vehicle, including recreational vehicles. It also said any ordinance the city passes can only extend to buildings.
Davis said the fields used for high school soccer games are within 1,000 feet of the RV park and share a bathroom. He added that students parked at a school are not allowed to have guns in their car even though a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling sided with a University of Kentucky student who had a gun in his car parked at Commonwealth Stadium.