File photo from Wikimedia Commons attributed to St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.
The Ohio House will vote, once again, on legislation to remove training and permitting requirements to carry a concealed handgun in the state.
House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said the legislation, which a House committee passed out on Tuesday, will be up for a passage vote at a floor session Wednesday afternoon.
Because the House adopted two amendments to the bill, it will need to return to the Senate for approval. Cupp said it will “hopefully” pass over in time for a Senate concurrence vote, meaning the bill could be sent to the governor’s desk come Wednesday afternoon.
However, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, indicated the Senate would not vote on the bill Wednesday so members could analyze the changes. The Senate passed the legislation in December in a 23-8 vote, with all but one Republican in support. All Democrats opposed the legislation.
Senate Bill 215, sponsored by Republican Sen. Terry Johnson of McDermott, would remove the requirement under current law that gun owners obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon from their local sheriff. The application requires completion of an 8-hour training course and clearing a background check.
Instead, any Ohioan aged 21-and-up who can lawfully possess a gun would be allowed to conceal and carry the weapon.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 concealed carry applications are typically denied per year, according to data from the attorney general’s office. Possible reasons for denial include certain felony and misdemeanor convictions, a previous court finding of mental illness, being the subject of a civil protection order and others.
Looming passage of the bill comes as 2021 has overtaken 2020 as the record-setting year for gun deaths in Ohio, according to data from the state health department. GOP Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, who leads the committee that passed the legislation Tuesday, said he “doesn’t really understand the question” about how he thinks about passing a gun rights expansion amid a surge in gun violence.
Cupp brushed aside a similar question.
“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” he said. “Also it was the deadliest year for the highways, as I understand it. So not sure there’s a connection.”
Several activists with Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun violence organization that formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook School Shooting that left 20 children dead, pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to drop the bill in something of a last-ditch effort.
Rebecca Gorski cited a June 2021 incident in which a local TV station reported a man accidentally shot himself in the face at a Geauga County gun range. Scott Hildenbrand, the local sheriff, was quoted encouraging the man to go through some gun training. Hildenbrand has since spoken out against the proposed legislation.
At the hearing, Republicans voted down a series of amendments from Democrats generally aimed at reducing gun violence. One would have created an “extreme risk protective order” mechanism, in which families or law enforcement can petition a judge to temporarily seize weapons from a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Another would close a loophole that allows the purchase of firearms in some settings like gun shows without a background check. Another would have required licensed gun sellers to issue a one-page pamphlet to buyers about Ohio’s gun carrying, possession and use laws.
Democrats — citing opposition testimony on the legislation from the Fraternal Order of Police, Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey and others — emphasized law enforcement opposition to the legislation and characterized it as a threat to the general welfare.
“SB 215 is anti-public safety and anti-police,” said Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron. “This legislation puts Ohio law enforcement officials in the line of fire and makes them less safe. We need to be taking steps to make our communities safer, and this dangerous bill does the opposite.”
The Buckeye Firearms Association, a prominent gun lobby group, has declared the bill (informally known as “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry”) to be a major priority issue as primary elections near.
As such, both the House and Senate, under firm Republican control, have passed dueling yet substantively similar versions of the bill. With the Senate legislation as the vehicle of choice, the House must pass the legislation and send it to the Senate. The Senate can either accept the House’s changes (minor in nature) or bring the matter to a conference committee to iron out any differences.
However, Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, who offered the amendments, indicated Tuesday that they were introduced with the sponsor’s blessing. The Ohio House passed a different but nearly identical bill in November on a party line, 60-32 vote.
Should the Senate pass the legislation, it goes to the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine. The governor has reserved comment publicly on the bill, but he privately told Buckeye Firearms during his 2018 campaign that he would sign constitutional carry legislation if it reached his desk.
Public health researchers and anti-gun violence researchers draw links between relaxed gun policies and homicide rates and others. For instance, researchers with the American Journal for Public Health found states with permitless carry laws were associated with an 11% increase in handgun homicide rates. The National Bureau of Economic Researchers found states experienced about a 14% higher rate of violent crime after adopting a new concealed carry permitting system similar to Ohio’s current one.
Gun advocates argue that those who plan to illegally carry a weapon or use it for nefarious purposes will already do so, regardless of any permitting requirement. Additionally, they say Ohio laws already allow for the open carry of firearms, so it’s somewhat incongruous that the law doesn’t allow for the concealed carry of firearms.
Some bill supporters, including Senate President Huffman, have argued the legislation is a logical extension of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that “there is no constitutional right to bear arms.”
Susan Tebben contributed to this report.
Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.