It took two hours of mostly opponent testimony before a measure paring back Ohio's concealed-carry law was passed by a the House committee by a vote of 9-3.
Despite opposition by law enforcement and business groups, House Bill 233 heads for a vote of the full House on Thursday morning.
The legislation would remove penalties for concealed-carry permit holders who knowingly or unknowingly carry a firearm into "gun-free zones," if they comply with a request to leave. Rep. John Becker, a Republican from Clermont County's Union Township, said the legislation is intended to protect law-abiding gun owners from harsh legal penalties. Under current law, carrying a concealed gun into a prohibited area is a felony.
Three of the four Democrats on the Federalism and Interstate Relations Committee cast the dissenting votes against Becker's bill. Rep. Glenn Holmes, D-McDonald, himself a concealed-carry license holder, said he would have voted yes on the bill if it weren't for vague language regarding penalties and the scope of the bill.
In addition to Holmes, Reps. Dave Leland and Adam Miller, both Columbus-area Democrats, voted against the legislation. Becker said he would continue to work with all interested parties to revise language when it heads to the Senate, where he expects it to pass.
"There's some question about the issue of 'intent' and 'knowingly', and the (substitute) bill we had was supposed to address that, and it may not have addressed it adequately," Becker said. "That's the issue I'm going to work with the Senate on."
House Bill 233 unified an eclectic base of nontraditional allies in opposition. In total, 13 organizations submitted dissenting testimony to the legislation. Among them were Moms Demand Action, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Prosecuting Attorney's Association, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and the Ohio Restaurant Association.
Much of the opposition rested on the rights of private property owners, which some say would be violated if the legislation becomes law. By removing preventative penalties for bringing a gun into a prohibited area, such as a business with posted signage, the legislation tramples on employers rights, wrote Alex Boehnke of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants in a testimony.
The nuance of the bill's language was another point of contention for some opponents. John Murphy, head of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney's Association, opposed the measure after a distinction between "knowingly" and "unknowingly" couldn't be worked out. This distinction, he said, is vital for the interpretation of the law. The association is among those Becker said he would work with.
"You're seeing much more activity on these bills," Michael Weinman, of the Fraternal Order of Police, said. "Many more activists and regular citizens are coming out against these bills, and even for them."
Among the areas where guns are currently prohibited by law are airport terminals, child daycare centers, courthouses and school safety zones. Even police stations could be affected by House Bill 233, Weinman said.
"Police stations are obviously a place where you should know not to carry a weapon," Weinman said. "And to say that you forgot or just happened to stumble into a police station is not a legitimate excuse."
Two other bills were up for consideration, House Bills 142 and 201, but neither came to a vote during the session. Many of the same opposition parties issued similar testimonies of dissent against the two pieces of legislation.
The former would eliminate the requirement for a concealed-carry holder to notify law enforcement of a weapon in their vehicle when pulled over. Opponents, including one who dubbed it the "Surprise Gun Bill," said the legislation would make the jobs of police more dangerous by making every traffic stop a potentially lethal encounter.
House Bill 201, known to supporters as a Constitutional Carry Law, would allow for permitless concealed carrying of a handgun across Ohio. The legislation would remove the requirement for background checks and training for those who choose to carry a concealed gun. Only the National Rifle Association and a solitary citizen submitted proponent testimony, while five groups submitted opponent testimony.
If this passes it will put another nail in the coffin of Ohio's reputation. Presently Ohio is infamous as the opiate death capital of the world. Now it going to be famous as the gun capital of the world. The same people who say we should all carry guns claim to be super patriots. But what do soldiers die for other than to keep their homelands from living in a perpetual state of war? Living in Ohio is becoming more and more like living a death zone stuck in an ever-increasing spiral of violence and mayhem.