Thursday, January 8, 2004

Concealed carry bill awaits Taft

Governor says he'll sign it

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Ohioans who want to carry handguns in their pockets, coats or car glove boxes should soon be able to do all of that legally.

The Ohio House and Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would give a license to carry concealed weapons to any adult who takes a gun safety course and passes criminal and mental competency background checks. Gov. Bob Taft said he will sign the bill.

There are 36 other states, including Kentucky and Indiana, that have similar laws. Concealed weapons have been intensely debated in Ohio and in Cincinnati, where a state law banning them was challenged in court.

The Supreme Court rejected that lawsuit, and Taft has for years blocked bills that didn't require training and background checks. While supporters of the bill complained about these restrictions, most called it a decent compromise.

"We came to a point where we had to make a decision," said House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. "This gets the job done."

Not everyone agrees. Conservative lawmakers such as Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout, voted against the measure, saying there were too many restrictions.

"It's a piece of crap," said Brinkman, who objected to a last-minute addition to the bill that would let journalists obtain lists of concealed weapon license holders. "I think it's ridiculous."

Chuck Klein, a private investigator and one of the four people who filed the Cincinnati lawsuit, said the bill identifies too many places where Ohioans can't carry handguns.

The law bans concealed weapons from all government buildings, schools, universities, day cares, and bars and restaurants with liquor licenses. Businesses can put up signs saying concealed weapons are forbidden.

"I just don't see what danger a law-abiding, trained person would be to anyone in a school, church or any place like that," Klein said.

Some Democrats also voted against the bill, saying they feared an increase in crime and homicides.

"More guns means more gun violence," said Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati.

But supporters of the bill predicted a drop in crime rates because residents will be better able to protect themselves.

"I think it's going to be a deterrent to crime," Householder said. "That's the whole purpose of this thing."

Householder also predicted gun-rights advocates and lawmakers would be able to remove some of the law's restrictions in the future.

Vernon Ferrier, a Hyde Park hairdresser and another plaintiff in the Cincinnati lawsuit, said it was more important to get a law on the books now that could be changed over time.

"Once (lawmakers) see that the problems aren't there that they anticipated it will be easier to make changes and make this even better," Ferrier said. "This has been a long time coming."

Conceal-and-carry laws are commonplace and can be found on the books of 36 states.

Kentucky has given out permits to about 72,000 people since 1996. Florida has nearly 800,000 permit holders dating back to 1987.

Less than 1 percent of those people have had their permits or licenses revoked for firearm crimes or for any other reason, according to the National Rifle Association.

In Ohio, Taft has been the main stumbling block. He finally promised to sign this bill after lawmakers agreed to let journalists obtain lists of license holders.

This angered some lawmakers, who said reporters would publish their names for no good reason.

Orest Holubec, Taft's spokesman, said the governor has been consistent about what he wants - mandatory training, background checks and support from law enforcement groups. Holubec said the issue of sharing license holders' identities came up late because the governor assumed they would be public record.

Ohioans who want to carry a concealed firearm may be able to apply for them at county sheriffs' offices as early as this summer, once officials set the rules.

Steve Barnett, a spokesman for Hamilton County Sheriff Simon L. Leis Jr., said there would probably be a big initial rush of applicants.

"It will be a little hard on us, probably, at first," Barnett said. "We'll do what we're supposed to do."


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