Mar. 27—Ohio's gun laws have seen major changes in the past few years, with both "stand your ground" and constitutional or permitless concealed carrying passing.
And many more bills have been proposed in the Statehouse. This story examines the biggest changes to gun laws in recent years, what other proposals lawmakers are considering and what people on both sides of the debate believe.
What is 'stand your ground?'
Two major changes have come to Ohio's gun laws during Gov. Mike DeWine's term. The first was Senate Bill 175. Dubbed "stand your ground,", similar to those passed by other states, it says a person doesn't have a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense, in defense of another person, or in defense of a place where they have a legal right to be.
It also gives qualified civil immunity to a nonprofit — such as a church — for damage related to someone with a concealed-carry permit bringing a handgun on premises, and gives absolute civil immunity to a nonprofit for losses resulting from the organization's decision to allow a concealed-carry permit holder to bring a handgun.
DeWine signed SB 175 in January 2021. It went into effect in April of that year, but opponents filed suit in September, arguing it was passed improperly by being tacked onto another bill without public debate.
What is 'constitutional carry?'
The other big change is SB 215, which DeWine signed this month and should go into effect in mid-June.
That bill legalizes concealed carry of handguns without a permit. It applies to anyone at least 21 who is legally allowed to have a gun. The bill also removes the requirement for eight hours of gun safety training and a background check to carry a concealed weapon.
Also, if a driver is stopped by police, that person would no longer be required to inform officers they're carrying a concealed weapon unless asked.
A CCW permit is still available for anyone who wants one. Some CCW trainers believe they will remain popular because many other states that don't allow constitutional carry recognize Ohio's concealed license.
On the horizon
The Buckeye Firearms Association described SB 215 as the "brass ring" it has worked toward since Ohio legalized concealed carry 18 years ago. But now that it's passed, the group continues to back a list of bills to further loosen weapon laws.
Some are largely symbolic, such as designating Ohio as a "Second Amendment Sanctuary."
Others include: — Exempting gun-carrying school personnel from basic police training. — Forbidding local governments from confiscating guns, closing gun stores or suspending gun licenses during an "emergency," such as a natural disaster or civil unrest. — Prohibiting a liability insurance requirement for gun owners. — Supporting a ban on knife regulations.
What's the likelihood of passing?
Many of those are unlikely to pass during this session, according to state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield.
"There's always been that thought that the governor only signs one gun bill per General Assembly," he said.
That's already happened with SB 215. But Koehler hopes one more gets through — his own.
"I'm currently working on House Bill 383, which the governor mentioned at the very end of his State of the State speech," he said.
In that speech Wednesday, DeWine blamed most gun crimes on "a small number of dangerous offenders," and called for stiffer sentences for former felons caught with guns again. The nod from the governor makes Koehler think he'd sign HB 383, too.
Koehler said Dan Driscoll, Clark County prosecutor, and Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf have been urging him to push the bill. Koehler was the legislator who added the no-retreat language to SB 175, though he says it's not a "stand your ground" law. He signed on as a cosponsor of both that bill and HB 215.
Under HB 383, if an ex-felon is caught once more with a gun, they would be charged with a third-degree felony; but being caught twice would raise that charge to the second degree, Koehler said.
A second-degree conviction would bring a sentence of two to eight years.
And if someone caught with a gun had previously been convicted of murder or manslaughter, the new charge would become a first-degree felony, Koehler said.
In August 2019 a gunman killed nine and injured 37 in the city's historic Oregon District. When DeWine attended a memorial event in Dayton, the crowd chanted "do something" at him. In response, DeWine said he supported a list of gun-law changes, including improved gun background checks, expanding 72-hour mental health holds and increasing penalties for crimes committed with firearms. But none of that legislation passed the General Assembly.
DeWine's press secretary did not respond to questions on the status of DeWine's proposals or his position on any pending gun legislation.
After the Oregon District shooting, buttons printed with "do something" circulated to show support for gun control measures, said state Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale.
"I wear that button religiously now," he said. But Republicans have only loosened restrictions since then, Thomas said.
"We have done nothing as it relates to what the people of Ohio called for after Aug. 4 of 2019, other than put more weapons on the street," he said.
Democrats have championed other measures endorsed by Everytown for Gun Safety. But overwhelming Republican control of the state House and Senate makes it "literally impossible" to pass even measures that are supported by a majority of Ohioans, Thomas said.
Those measures include a red flag law, universal background checks, a limitation on ammunition magazine capacity, and closing the gun show loophole that allows for private sales without a background check, he said.
"Those are the most concerning ones, that 70 to 80% of Ohioans agree on," Thomas said.
Thomas, himself a Cincinnati police officer for 27 years, said it was particularly troubling that Republicans passed SB 215 over the objections of law enforcement.
The former requirement for gun safety training, now waived if no concealed-carry permit is sought, covered not just gun handling but safe storage, Thomas said. Removal of that requirement puts children at risk, he said.
Obtaining a permit also required a background check, which more than 2,000 applicants failed last year, Thomas said.
"A lot of those individuals will probably be able to get that firearm now," he said.
What local gun owners say
"Constitutional carry makes sense," said David Becker, owner of the Miami Armory in Dayton. "It's pretty simple. We believe it's a right to carry a gun. We also believe it's responsible to get a concealed carry license, because it means you're going to go through some level of training."
Local gun shop owners and CCW trainers said many responsible gun owners will take the training and get a permit anyway..
"If you're going to carry a concealed firearm, the instruction you will get at a CCW class will make the difference between a good decision and bad decision, and hopefully you don't have to make a decision at all," said Doug Hague, owner of Vandalia Range and Armory.
Ron Rathdun, an employee of Buck Creek Carry Out in Springfield, said he supports permitless carry.
"Basically, anybody that wanted to carry a firearm legally went ahead and got the license," he said. "I don't think you are going to see a whole lot more people start carrying firearms just because they can."
Additionally, training provided by CCW courses, proponents say, is the best way to learn how to handle, care for and wield firearms responsibly.
"I am very glad that it passed, but I absolutely believe training is essential," said Scott Cronin of Gunset Training Group. "Everybody, even people that have concealed carry permits, I don't believe are trained enough, and should continue to seek out quality training. I train all the time, and I think I still need more training. So, if I think that about myself, I definitely believe that about the average civilian."
What local opponents are saying
When Springfield native Dion Green learned of Ohio's passage of constitutional carry, his only reaction was to be unsurprised.
Green's father, Derrick Fudge, was among nine people killed by in the Oregon District mass shooting. Green has since spent his time helping victims of trauma and gun violence through the nonprofit named after his father, and advocating for gun reform legislation.
"We're our own judge and executioner now," he said. "I'm always going to be angry, but it doesn't bother me anymore because they don't want to do the right thing."
Further, loosening of restrictions and lack of universal background check laws doesn't do anything to deter bad actors, and may increase those individuals falling through the cracks, especially those engaging in person-to-person or online sales, said Susie Lane, Dayton Local Lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
"The system worked," Lane said. "Our permitting system required a background check and training. Now there is no requirement for a background check or training on how to safely store and use your weapon. By using data from other states that have passed similar legislation, we can predict that gun violence will likely increase."