Ohio House prepares to loosen gun restrictions

Ohioans would no longer need a license to carry a concealed firearm, and teachers would need less training to carry a gun in the classroom, under two bills up for a final Ohio House vote Wednesday afternoon.

The bills — House Bills 227 and 99 — mark the latest attempts by the Republican-dominated Ohio General Assembly to roll back Ohio’s gun-control laws.

HB 227, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati, would allow anyone age 21 or older to carry a concealed firearm unless state or federal prohibits them from possessing a gun. Ohio would become the 22nd state to allow conceal-carry in public without needing a license, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The bill would also no longer require motorists to tell law enforcement about concealed handguns in their vehicles unless they’re asked.

Right now, drivers who fail to pre-emptively notify an officer in Ohio that they have a gun with them face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and suspension of their concealed-handgun license. HB227 would eliminate that penalty.

HB227 attracted a lot of committee testimony, both from supporters and opponents of the bill.

In sponsor testimony, Brinkman argued that it’s “not always practical” for gun owners to carry a firearm openly and that they may decide to put a coat or jacket over their gun “to avoid unnecessary hassle from the public or law enforcement.”

He added: “Sadly, that individual instantly turns into a felon if they have not gone through some the government-mandated rigmarole first, which is a violation of their God-given rights” under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.

Laura Robertson Boyd, a volunteer with the Ohio Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, disagreed, testifying that HB227 is a “dangerous” bill that would jeopardize public safety in Ohio.

“Under this bill, a person could buy a gun — which in Ohio does not require a criminal background check if not buying from a federally licensed dealer — and then, without any further vetting or any safety training, immediately carry that loaded gun down the street around our children and families,” Boyd testified. “At the same time, law enforcement would lose a critical tool for stopping people with dangerous histories from carrying concealed guns in public.”

A second bill on the House’s agenda, HB99, would drastically reduce the number of training hours needed for school employees to carry guns on school grounds.

Right now, state law only allows educational workers to carry firearms at school if they have completed a basic peace-officer training program consisting of more than 700 hours of training or have at least 20 years of law-enforcement experience.

HB99 would reduce that training requirement to 20 hours (including two hours of handgun training with specific maneuvers laid out in the bill) and four additional hours annually. Those are the same standards as security officers who are already permitted to carry firearms, according to House Criminal Justice Committee Chair Jeff LaRe, a Fairfield County Republican.

HB99 comes in response to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling last June overturning a Butler County school district policy allowing employees to voluntarily carry concealed firearms in school so long as they have a conceal-carry permit and undergo active shooter training.

The policy came after a 14-year-old student opened fire at Madison Junior-Senior High School in 2016, injuring four. HB99’s primary sponsor, Republican state Rep. Thomas Hall of Butler County, previously testified that his father, the only armed school resource officer at Madison Junior-Senior High School, chased the shooter out of the building.

“What could have been an even more tragic event was ended by my father being there,” Hall testified, adding later: “Educators should have the ability to carry firearms in the classroom to protect students and staff.”

But several parents of Madison Junior-Senior High School students disagreed with Hall’s position, filing the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling. HB99 is also opposed by teachers’ unions, the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio and gun-control groups.

If HB227 and HB99 pass, they each would head to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

In recent years, the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly has passed several other measures to loosen requirements on concealed firearms, including allowing military service members and veterans to carry without a permit and removing the state’s ban on conceal-carry on college campuses and several other locations.

Lawmakers have, meanwhile, refused to act so far on a series of gun reforms proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine after a 2019 mass shooting in Dayton. The governor’s proposals would create a voluntary state-level background check process for gun sales between private sellers and expand the state’s existing “pink-slip” law to allow authorities to send people with drug or alcohol problems to a psychiatric hospital, where they cannot legally have access to guns.

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Jeremy Pelzer