Tuesday, September 05, 2000
Round-table exchange on concealed weapons
To better understand the issues surrounding Ohio's concealed weapons law, The Cincinnati Enquirer recently assembled a round table meeting of four experts and activists:
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, who is defending the concealed weapons law against charges that it is unconstitutional.
Private investigator Chuck Klein, who along with three others filed the lawsuit that seeks to overturn the concealed weapons law.
Christo Lassiter, a former military prosecutor who now teaches constitutional law at the University of Cincinnati.
Tom Jones, president of the Avondale Public Safety Task Force.
The meeting begins with a discussion on Judge Robert Ruehlman's initial decision to throw out the law. An appeals court reversed his decision and reinstated the law.
The following are excerpts of the hourlong discussion. The comments have been edited for clarity and space.
Dan Horn, The Cincinnati Enquirer: Is Judge Ruehlman's decision the right way to deal with some of the problems that have been raised with the concealed weapons law?
Mike Allen: Absolutely not. It's an issue that needs to be resolved in the legislature with the normal legislative process, which is to give and take and compromise. One judge should not be able to make the decision for an entire jurisdiction.
Let the legislature fix it.
Chuck Klein: But what relief is there for me? I've been trying to see this law passed in the Ohio legislature for five years. They have ignored us the entire time.
Mr. Allen: You know what? I don't mean to interrupt you, but you've got to keep banging away at it. You've got to keep talking to the legislature.
Mr. Klein: That's not acceptable.
Mr. Allen: That's not the answer you want to hear.
Mr. Klein: You want me to face a criminal charge for carrying a gun to protect myself and my business as a private investigator? I should face criminal charges and go to jail for a felony charge?
Mr. Allen: There are inherent problems with (the law), but the place to fix it is in Columbus, not in a courtroom in Hamilton County.
Mr. Klein: No, no, no, no. I'm trying to exercise my constitutional rights and you're saying that the law takes precedent.
If the Constitution permits me to carry the gun, concealed or otherwise, I'm entitled to do that. If the legislature wishes me not to carry a gun, the proper method is for them to change the Constitution. Not to pass a law that restricts me.
Do law-abiding citizens need to carry concealed weapons?
Tom Jones: The need in the community for individuals to arm themselves, I believe that's quite frightening. When you try to move a community forward, when you try to give a feeling of a secure environment ... that's quite frightening.
Christo Lassiter: My reaction is that ... citizens have a right to carry arms, and therefore that sort of supersedes the question of do they have a need.
Mr. Klein: Certainly some people have a need. They're in dangerous situations. Would you have a jewelry salesman that is carrying $10,000 worth of jewelry on him in his briefcase in his car, would you expect him to be out there in public and no means of protecting himself? I don't think so. I think that's a problem.
Same thing with people like me in my profession, private investigators. I've been in more than one situation where I've had to use a gun to protect my life, and I don't think I'd be here today if I had not had a gun on me on those occasions.
Mr. Lassiter: What do you mean by using a gun? Brandishing a weapon or firing a weapon?
Mr. Klein: I have never fired at anyone.
Mr. Lassiter: Was the gun loaded?
Mr. Klein: Yes, but I didn't fire it.
Obviously, the constitutional right to bear arms (the Second Amendment) is an issue here. But does the constitution guarantee a right to carry a concealed gun, a concealed weapon?
Mr. Allen: I suppose if one read it literally, you can make an argument that it does.
One thing that I feel pretty strongly about is we do have a Second Amendment, and it's just as important as all the rest of them. I think sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle.
Mr. Lassiter: The Second Amendment also permits ... the state to regulate the right to bear arms.
But one point that Mike Allen has raised, and I believe quite appropriately, is that the Second Amendment ... is the same as any other amendment. When it comes to the First Amendment (which guarantees the right to free speech and free press) there is an expansive reading of the liberty.
But when it comes to the Second Amendment, there is a restrictive reading.
I mean, no one ever asks you, Do you need to carry pornographic material? Do you have concealed pornographic material in your briefcase? Does it have to be in a brown paper bag?
Mr. Klein: It is far more prudent and far more safe for society in general and for the individual carrier to carry a gun concealed than in the open. As a private investigator, what would be the point of me carrying a gun exposed in the open? I'm trying to be inconspicuous.
Another point on this is the element of surprise. If you have a gun strapped on in the open and you walk into a bank, a store or whatever. And the bad guys walk in to rob this place. The first guy they're going to take out is the guy with the gun.
Mr. Jones: If we're allowed to carry guns, you may have an incident there where everyone in the bank pulls out a gun and starts shooting. You can't rule that out.
The need to carry a gun, I think, should be left into the authority of the people who are trained. Your law enforcement officers. Your security guards. People who have a definite need to bear arms, but who are well-trained to do so.
Why should we evolve into a society where we're going to have everyone armed?
Should there be any restrictions or any limits on someone's right to carry a gun?
Mr. Jones: If the rights are going to be given for people to bear arms, I believe there should be limits and restrictions on how and who should be able to carry a gun.
My fear is ... everyone may take a limited amount of training so that they are able to carry the gun. And you're going to have large numbers of people doing so in a community that is pretty much crime-ridden.
Does it worry you when someone starts talking about restricting a right? Is that acceptable to you?
Mr. Klein: Oh, no. That is not acceptable at all. You might need guns to protect yourself in your normal goings and comings.
The normal citizen out at night anywhere in a large city could be subject to a criminal attack. These criminal attacks happen randomly. We have a special class of criminal that has evolved over the years, what the police label as a super predator. This person has no conscience. They don't care about your life, much less their own life.
If you cross paths with them and have no way of (defending yourself), you're gone.
Let me ask you something, Tom. Have you ever carried a gun?
Mr. Jones: No, I haven't.
Mr. Klein: I have. And I can tell you that it's a different feeling that you have when you're carrying life and death instant life and death on your hip or under your shoulder.
It changes how you think.
Mr. Jones: Do you feel safer?
Mr. Klein: No, it's more than that. It changes how you think and react to things. You're not aggressive because you know you have this ultimate piece of last resort that you can use.
If you walk through the city or through a bad neighborhood without a gun, you're more apprehensive. You're worried about what escape routes you can take, how fast can I run to get away from trouble. But if you're carrying a gun ... you can remain calm.
You have this tool that can protect your life to the very end.
Mr. Jones: As recently as a couple of days ago, I was shot at. I still don't feel the need to carry a gun.
I come from Washington, D.C., where there is a very high incidence of criminal activity. I grew up there and I never carried a gun and still don't feel the need to carry a gun.
If (criminals) knew that I carried a gun, maybe instead of them hitting me or telling me to go to hell, I may possibly get shot.
Why are guns and the right to carry guns such a hot-button issue in this country?
Mr. Allen: Traditionally, we have had that right and it's preserved in the Second Amendment. It's something that many people take seriously.
There are some people that very naively convince themselves that if you have overly restrictive burdens on the right to bear arms, criminals won't have them. And I think that's just not realistic. It's not realistic in our system.
I think that's why it's such an emotional issue.
Mr. Jones: We need to try to find other means of trying to protect citizens and communities without giving them the right to have arms for defensive purposes against one another.
Mr. Lassiter: Tom makes an excellent point with regard to perhaps reopening the debate as to the desirability of a Second Amendment.
But one of the difficulties ... is that the cat is out of the bag. It's almost unrealistic. As a practical matter, we just simply would not be able to either confiscate all the weapons in this country or alter the public philosophical view that subscribes to that liberty.
What is it to you, Chuck, about this issue that cuts so close to the bone? Why is it so important to you?
Mr. Klein: I guess it's constitutional correctness. We've been doing so many things based upon political correctness, and it galls me. They would rather pass a law and try to twist the meaning of the constitution to fit the new law.
The Second Amendment says thou shall not infringe on gun ownership.
What about the argument that so much has changed since the time the Constitution addressed this issue? That guns have changed so much?
Mr. Klein: That's got nothing to do with it. If times change and you want to change how things are done, you change the Constitution. You don't make a law that violates the Constitution.
Mr. Lassiter: I think that harkens back to the selective enforcement issue.
Are we going to have a round table next week to talk about overturning the First Amendment because we now have a much more faster, comprehensive way of disseminating public information? If you want to read the First Amendment expansively, then it seems that all amendments should be read the same.
Many scholars believe that they can view the Second Amendment in a restrictive fashion. But yet, out of the same side of their mouth, they would say with respect to the First Amendment, By God, we've got to be very expansive with that.
Can there be some middle ground here, where we can say it is a constitutional right but there can be some regulation?
Mr. Lassiter: It's absolutely clear that the state can regulate any right in the interest of public safety.
There are several states which have the right for concealed carry, but there are permits. For example, felons or those who are mentally insane should forfeit the right or not have full rights (to carry concealed weapons.)
Mr. Allen: My personal view is with a permit system, with background checks, training, periodic qualifications ... (concealed carry) is something that should be considered.
But again, it's something that has to originate with the legislature.
Mr. Jones: I think it should be regulated. There should be a great amount of input from the communities that are affected.
Mr. Klein: The very foundation of this country, the crowning example of what distinguishes us from all others, is that we are not subservient to bullies, criminals, a state or a central government. (We have) the obligation to secure our own life and ... decide for ourselves what defines our happiness.
The only way for many of us to do that is to carry a concealed firearm in our goings and comings.
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