FRANKFORT, KENTUCKY -- Joe Megerle was suspicious when a stranger approached him just after sunrise in Devou Park and asked him for the time.
His suspicion turned to fear when, moments later, the man made a U-turn, stopped his car in the middle of the road and walked toward him.
Megerle, a retired Cinergy worker with bad knees and a bad back, reached into his pocket and cocked the hammer on the .25-caliber pistol he carried on his morning walks.
When the stranger pulled a gun from his waist band and rushed Megerle, Megerle shot first. The stranger fell at his feet. Megerle was uninjured.
"I've thought about how I could've gotten out of it, and there was no way," Megerle said this week in his first media interview since the shooting Aug. 19, 1999. "It was like having your back against the wall and a big Mack truck was bearing down on you."
"Where could I have gone?"
Megerle, now 59, credits his life to a 1996 law that made it legal for qualified people to carry a concealed weapon. The law took effect five years ago this month.
When the law was being debated in the legislature, some citizens and officials predicted a blood bath. Street corners and Little League games would dissolve into Wild West-like scenarios, they said, with people settling disagreements over gunfire.
Five years and more than 62,000 permits later, that hasn't proven true.
"I think it's worked out exactly as I predicted it would," said state Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, who sponsored the 1996 legislation.
"I don't think anyone can find fault with it."
Police and other officials interviewed could not recall an incident in the last five years in which a gun carried under the law was used illegally.
But anecdotal evidence exists of people defending themselves with permitted guns: An elderly woman in Bowling Green shot a group of teen-age intruders who broke into her home; a man in Louisville used his concealed weapon to thwart a group of gun-brandishing bank robbers.
"We haven't seen large increases in violent crimes involving handguns as a result of people having carry-concealed permits," said Lt. Lisa Rudzinski, KSP spokeswoman. "People who commit violent crimes - some of them may have had concealed-carry permits. But the majority of them do not."
That's because the people who have the permits are law-abiding citizens, say proponents of the law. To obtain a permit, an applicant must clear a thorough background check and complete an eight-hour classroom and target-training course.
That rigorous training and strict background check have been key to the law's success, said Florence Police Chief Tom Kathman.
"They've done a very good job of requiring the training and trying to evaluate those people who are applying," he said. "I think that has been the major focus of whether the program has been successful or not."
Kathman said the law has created no problem for him. He was neutral on the idea in 1996, he said.
But other police organizations weren't.
The Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill, saying that more guns would mean more incidences of gun-related injuries. Craig Birdwhistell, executive director of the association, said so far that hasn't happened.
"No, we haven't experienced the problems that some of our chiefs of police have anticipated," he said.
Birdwhistell said despite the statistics, the Kentucky police chief's association is still against an armed populous.
"I don't think our membership have changed their minds," said Birdwhistell, a former Georgetown police chief. "They don't think that putting more weapons out on the street is the way to solve crime."
Megerle, though, said it's the only thing that saved him from being a victim of crime. Megerle has often wondered how he could have avoided shooting James Kennedy, but he's never second-guessed his decision to do so.
Kennedy, who was hit in the head and chest, recovered. He pleaded guilty this summer to charges of robbery and being a persistent felony offender and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He'd previously served time for burglary, receiving stolen property and disorderly conduct.
Megerle counts his blessings. "If it wasn't for that firearm, I could have very well been hurt," he said.
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