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A series of bills aimed at expanding the rights of Ohio gun owners is making its way through the legislature.
If all are passed, the bills would greatly ease the ability of individuals to carry a concealed weapon.
One bill would remove the need for a license to carry a concealed handgun. Another would remove the responsibility of concealed-carry holders to notify law-enforcement officers that they're carrying weapons when pulled over. And another would widen the legal parameters of self-defense by removing the duty to retreat before using lethal force, more commonly known as a "stand your ground" law.
The likelihood that all of the measures will pass is slim, but in virtually every legislative session, Ohio lawmakers give something to Second Amendment supporters.
This year, the most-sweeping proposal is House Bill 228, introduced by Reps. Sarah LaTourette, R-Chester Township, and Terry Johnson, R-McDermott. It would give prosecutors the burden to disprove a self-defense claim in a fatal shooting, rather than placing the burden on the defendant to prove the motive. It also would remove the obligation of concealed-carry holders to retreat before using force in self-defense.
A similar bill was debated in 2013 but didn't pass. Michael Weinman, director of governmental affairs with the Fraternal Order of Police, said the organization opposes the legislation.
Meagan Matteson, an official with the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action, which advocates gun reform, said in a statement that proposals such as House Bill 228 upend traditional self-defense clauses and allow for the use of lethal force in public, even when there's an alternative. Additionally, she said, "shoot first" laws have a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color.
House Bill 233, which has perhaps the greatest chance of passage, would remove the legal consequences for carrying a concealed weapon into prohibited spaces if the person leaves upon request. The bill, proposed by suburban Cincinnati Republican Rep. John Becker, has acquired 51 cosponsors in the House, all but assuring it will head to the Senate.
Becker said he has been encouraged about the bill's prospects by his colleagues in the Senate. The intention of his bill is to reduce penalties for concealed-carry license holders.
"For a lot of members in the caucus, it comes down to the constitutional rights of Ohioans," said Brad Miller, spokesman for Ohio Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, "There are cases where you never know when your life might be put in danger." Rosenberger is a cosponsor of the bill.
Among the "forbidden carry zones" outlined in the state's Concealed Carry Manual are airport terminals, child day-care centers, courthouses and school safety zones. If House Bill 233 were to pass, people carrying a concealed handgun in those places would face no legal repercussions if they leave when asked.
Weinman doesn't like it: "They're creating a situation where someone has to go up and confront these concealed-carry holders, making it an unsafe situation."
He noted that if the proposal becomes law, concealed-carry holders could walk into a police station with a hidden gun but not face a legal penalty. Among the concerns with such a policy, he said, is the increase in ambush-style killings of officers. In 2016, 21 officers were killed in such incidents, the highest number in two decades, according to statistics compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The FOP is expected to voice opposition in committee hearings.
In a Federalism and Interstate Relations Committee meeting this week, House Bill 142 was hotly debated. The legislation would remove the responsibility of concealed-carry holders to notify law-enforcement officers that they're carrying a weapon when pulled over. Current law mandates that a carrier "promptly notify" an officer, language that some committee members said is ambiguous.
The FOP and Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence aligned in opposition to the measure.
"Anyone with any common sense will be able to determine when to inform the officer," Weinman said. "There's always going to be a pause in the initial contact that someone can notify an officer. It almost seemed as though they wanted a time frame -- that's impossible."
John Hohenwarter, Ohio lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the bill addresses a longstanding concern within the concealed-carry community.
"I'm probably one of the few people that have been here since the very beginning of the debate, and one of the people who were at the table when this provision was being decided upon," Hohenwarter said. "I can tell you now that it was bad idea back then and it's still a bad idea today."
Another proposal making its way through the legislative process would eliminate the licensing requirement for someone to carry a concealed weapon. House Bill 201, introduced by Reps. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, and Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, has support from 22 other lawmakers.
"Good people carrying firearms is not a public safety threat," said Jim Irvine, board president of the Buckeye Firearm Association. His organization supports the bill.
Weinman said firearms training, currently necessitated by the licensing process, should be required of concealed-carry holders. The police union opposes the bill.
"We're very leery of ... what crimes you'd be allowed to carry with," Weinman said. "Does it open it up for people who assaulted police officers to be able to now carry?"
Moms Demand Action and the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence joined the FOP in opposing the bill.
Chris Door, director of Ohio Gun Owners, testified that the bill falls in line with Americans' "God-given, natural right" to keep and bear arms without bureaucratic mandates or paperwork.
These bills are pure insanity. NO ONE has a "god-given, natural right" to own a gun.