Monday, July 23, 2001

FOP softens concealed-gun stance




By Travis James Tritten
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — State lawmakers might have found new hope for passing a bill allowing Ohioans to carry concealed weapons, despite opposition from the governor.

        Gov. Bob Taft has threatened to veto any such proposal, saying Ohio police don't want it. But now a key law enforcement group may be softening its opposition, giving legislators some bargaining room.

        Support from the Fraternal Order of Police could evenly divide the state's four major law enforcement groups on the issue. The group has yet to take an official position, but Secretary Mike Taylor said it does not “oppose the concept” of concealed weapons.

        “We might get to a point where we don't oppose the bill,” Mr. Taylor said.

        A proposal sponsored by Rep. Jim Aslanides, R-Coshocton, would let residents carry concealed guns. The bill requires a background check, including fingerprinting, and firearms training.

        A spokesman for Mr. Taft said the governor will continue to side with the majority of the state's police, however, who say concealed guns make their job more dangerous.

        “He believes law enforcement have earned a right, by putting their lives on the line every day, to have a strong voice on the debate,” said Kevin Kellems, spokesman for the governor.

        The Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, which represents sheriffs from all 88 counties, has come out in favor of the bill.

        The group believes it is Ohioans' right to carry a hidden weapon for protection, and supports background checks and licensing, said Robert Cornwell, executive director.

        The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police has strongly opposed any conceal-carry legislation regardless of what restrictions are included.

        “We're not an anti-gun association, we're an association concerned with public safety,” said John Gilchrist, counsel for the group.

        The proposed law would cause more gun violence and accidental shootings, Mr. Gilchrist said.

        “Proponents want to change the law to gain a symbolic victory,” he said.

        The Ohio State Highway Patrol opposes the bill because it would allow concealed weapons in vehicles, said Lt. Gary Lewis, patrol spokesman.

        As state police groups inch closer to a down-the-middle split, some lawmakers say Mr. Taft is losing supporters.

        “I don't think you can say law enforcement is opposed to it,” said Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale.

        Mr. Finan said he has not polled the Senate on its support, but thinks any concealed-weapons legislation must have stringent training requirements to pass.

        House lawmakers, hopeful Mr. Taft will change his position, have continued work on the bill.

        “I think there's a lot of support from across the state and there is a lot of support in the legislature,” said Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, R-Aurora, chairwoman of the committee considering the proposal.

        After meeting with the gover nor, Ms. Womer Benjamin said she thinks he might soften his stance on the issue.

        Right-to-carry groups say the bill amounts only to more restrictions on guns. Some favor a stalled “Vermont-style” law proposed by Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout. It would allow any adult in the state to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

        Jim Ramm, chairman of Ohio Citizens Advancing Personal Safety, told the House Criminal Justice Committee last week that carrying a gun is a God-given right. Mr. Ramm said that if the legislature does not pass a less-restrictive law allowing concealed guns, Ohioans should consider “dissolution of the government.”

        Gun control advocates, including law enforcement and doctors, say the bill will cause an upswing in violence and shooting deaths.

        Toby Hoover, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said that if 5 percent of Ohioans received permits to carry a concealed weapon there would be 200,000 more guns on the streets. Ms. Hoover lost her husband to gun violence.

       



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