Thursday, July 20, 2000

Ruling 'benefit' to citizens

Concealed weapons can protect

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The teen-ager jumped from behind a parked car and made a beeline for Fred Hecht.

        The kid stopped a few feet in front of the 59-year-old man and refused to let him pass. He yelled. He made a threatening gesture.

        And then he noticed the gun strapped to Mr. Hecht's belt.

        “Dude's got a gun!” the kid shouted, before running off.

        The incident took place a few years ago, but Mr. Hecht tells the story whenever he's asked why anyone would need to carry a concealed weapon.

        Mr. Hecht, who lives in downtown Cincinnati, says he is the kind of “average citizen” who will benefit from a court ruling this week that eliminated concealed weapons laws in Hamilton County.

        Supporters of the ruling say thousands of people — ranging from teachers to private investigators — carry guns for the same reason Mr. Hecht does: protection.

        “I'm not rabid about guns. I don't pretend to be Wyatt Earp,” said Mr. Hecht, co-owner of a production company. “But an ordinary citizen has the right to defend himself.”

        For the first time, he said, he can exercise that right without fear of arrest.

        Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman decided this week to bar Cincinnati Police and the Hamilton County Sheriff's office from enforc ing Ohio's concealed weapons law.

        The judge's ruling was in response to a lawsuit that claimed the law treats honest citizens like criminals.

        The judge granted a temporary restraining order that bars enforcement of the law until he hears more arguments on Aug. 11.

        “Most people who carry guns are doing so without a criminal motive,” said Tim Smith, one of the attorneys who brought the suit.

        He said the law is unfair because law-abiding citizens cannot get permits to carry a concealed gun. Instead, they must get arrested and go to court to prove they have a good reason to carry a gun.

        Mr. Hecht said he should not have to worry about getting arrested if he feels the need to carry a gun for protection.

        He said he carries a gun because it makes sense, not because he's active in the debate over gun control. “I'm not a poster boy for this,” he said.

        But like it or not, Mr. Hecht and others like him are in the middle of the controversy.

        The National Rifle Association claims crime rates drop when citizens are permitted to carry concealed weapons. NRA officials say criminals think twice if they are worried about getting shot.

        “People who go out unarmed are living in a fantasy world,” said Harry Thomas, a former Cincinnati police officer and a member of the NRA board of directors.

        But gun control advocates argue that arming the public is not the best way to reduce violence in America.

        “The benefits (of concealed weapons) are greatly exaggerated,” said Andrew Spafford, spokesman for Legal Community Against Violence in San Francisco. “It has not been a solution for violence prevention.”

        As the political debate rages, thousands of people continue to carry concealed weapons.

        Although Ohio does not issue permits to carry guns, Kentucky has handed out more than 25,000 permits in the four years it has allowed concealed weapons.

        So far, none of those permit holders has been involved in a serious crime.

        That doesn't surprise Mr. Hecht. He said most people who carry guns understand that lives will be at stake if they ever have to use them.

        “This is a right that comes with a tremendous responsibility,” he said.

        Enquirer reporter Terry Flynn contributed to this story.


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