Guns are OK at the Capitol, but don't try to get in with your grandfather's wrench Skip to content

Guns are OK at the Capitol, but don't try to get in with your grandfather's wrench

4 min read

If you go to the state Capitol, take your gun. But for God’s sake, don’t take a wrench.

I tried.

I also brought along a whole slew of mildly, barely, how-in-the-world-are-you-going-to-use-that-to-hurt-someone type objects designed to test our state Capitol security.

My long-dead grandfather’s Craftsman plumber’s wrench was not well-received.

It started off just fine. The pleasant Capitol police officer first told me I couldn’t bring an umbrella in, so I took it back to my pickup. And I got a yard stick — a really nice heavy-gauge one I got at Brecher’s Lighting a few years ago when we bought some new fixtures.

When I tried to take that past security, I was again told I couldn’t take it in. Officer Roger Swiger walked outside with me, and I explained what I was doing.

Kentucky went viral on the internet last Friday when armed gun-rights advocates entered the Capitol building, pulled ski masks over their heads and posed like people in an ISIS video, brandishing their assault weapons over their skulls.

A video I posted on Twitter that showed men armed with assault weapons and wearing body armor entering the Capitol and being directed to bypass the metal detectors was viewed more than 2.3 million times.

But I wanted to find out what other weapons — or potential weapons — one could casually carry into the building where Kentucky’s governor, attorney general, secretary of state, Supreme Court and state legislators work.

Turns out, not much.

Back to the truck I went. There I traded my yardstick for a computer bag full of potential weapons, and back to the front door of the Capitol I went.

First thing I grabbed was a pipe wrench, a heavy iron thing that is generations older than me and not unlike the murder weapon in the old Clue board game.

Swiger took me outside, again.

It seemed the wrench really hung them up.

Swiger never told me that the wrench wasn’t allowed. But after making a phone call, he told me I’d have to wait outside until a Kentucky State Police major, a captain and a sergeant arrived.

People who were attending a gun-rights rally were checked in and ushered through, along with their guns. Louisville Courier Journal

You got an AK-47 and a drum-style magazine, no big deal. But you have a plumber’s wrench, they’ll bring in the honchos, the big brass, the entire right side of the Kentucky State Police organizational flow chart.

So I waited. And waited. And waited.

Nearly an hour later, state police Capt. Doug Carter came outside and told me that I needed to call state police spokesman Sgt. Josh Lawson.

I protested. I didn’t need to speak to a spokesman. I wasn’t asking for an official comment.

I was simply a citizen of Kentucky seeking entrance into the state Capitol, and I had some things with me that I didn’t know if they were allowed under state law and state policies.

Carter said I wasn’t simply “a citizen” because I’m a member of the media, which somehow in his mind meant that I was entitled to fewer rights than people who aren’t in the media.

“You’re different,” he said.

So, I tried to reach Lawson. I called him on his phone several times. I emailed him. I texted him.


So, I called Jon Fleischaker, The Courier Journal’s lawyer. He was going into a meeting but said he’d make a phone call or two before it began.

I’m an impatient sort, especially when I’ve already been forced to wait outside on a rainy day for more than an hour for no good reason.

After a few minutes, I went back to the door and told Swiger I needed to speak with Carter, the captain, again. “Hold on,” Swiger said, shutting the door in my face.

Seconds later, the door opened and I was granted permission to speak to the Great Oz … er, Capt. Carter.

I wanted to know why I was being denied entry.

“You’re not being denied entry,” Carter told me. “You just can’t go in with some of those things.”

Now, we’re getting somewhere.

That’s all I wanted to begin with. Now, tell me what’s not allowed in the building I said just before digging down into my computer bag.

A wrench? No.

Staple gun? “No need for it. …That can affix something to a wall.”



“Why not?”

The answer was no.

Air horn?


Clearly impatient, Carter asked if he could just go through my backpack.

He rejected the box cutter, the razor-blade scraper, a canister of pepper spray. He said the pocket knives with varying blade lengths — 1.5 inches, 2.75 inches and 3.5 inches — were all good.

So were the fingernail clippers. He seemed incredulous that I would even ask about the clippers, but there were stories — either true or apocryphal — about teachers with nail clippers being turned away last year.

I’m not sure if he ever ruled on the Phillips head screwdriver, he rummaged through the bag so quickly.

“I suppose if I bring in my machete, that would not be allowed either?”

“There is no need for a machete in the building,” Carter said.

“There’s no need for an AK-47 either,” I responded.

“That (an AK-47) is a constitutionally protected item,” he said.

So I loaded my wrench, staple gun, air horn, scissors, box cutter, razor blade scraper, canister of pepper spray, three pocket knives, fingernail clippers, and Phillips head screwdriver back into my computer bag and headed back to the truck.

I put the bag into the back seat, next to my umbrella and heavy-gauge yardstick from Brecher’s Lighting that had been rejected earlier.

That’s when I got my gun.

A nickel-plated .32 caliber Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless Revolver — serial number 1021 — that I think was made somewhere around 1888. I slipped the unloaded pistol in the front pocket of my corduroy trousers.

I headed back to the entrance and to the friendly officer who told me my umbrella wasn’t allowed earlier that day.

I showed him my driver’s license and told him I had a firearm in my front pocket.

He gave me a name tag and I walked through the metal detector. He ran a wand over me, suggesting security had been increased since Friday when people with guns were waved through without any type of screening.

And I walked around the Capitol with a gun in my pocket, but without my air horn, box cutter, razor blade scraper, pepper spray, yard stick, umbrella and staple gun.

And without my long-dead grandfather’s plumber’s wrench.


Written by Joseph Gerth. Cross-posted from the
Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.

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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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