(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Republicans in both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation Wednesday removing permitting, training, and background check requirements to carry a concealed weapon.
Senate Bill 215 now goes to GOP Gov. Mike DeWine, who can sign it into law or veto the legislation.
It passed 57-35 in the House on Wednesday, mostly along party lines. The Senate passed it in a party line vote hours later.
If signed into law, all Ohioans 21 and older would be allowed to carry a concealed weapon, so long as they’re legally allowed to possess it in the first place.
The legislation — often known as “permitless carry” or “constitutional carry” — has been a longtime goal of the firearms lobby. Its opponents include Democrats, organizations representing police officers, anti-gun violence activists, and public health researchers, the latter of whom have linked the policy to increases in violent crime.
Wednesday’s votes were somewhat expected — both chambers have already passed various versions of a permitless carry bill during this legislative session.
DeWine, however, has declined to state his position on the proposal for months. He drew scorn from gun advocates in the past for championing a modest gun control package in the wake of a mass shooting in Dayton in 2019. In contrast, he signed a “stand your ground” bill into law in 2020, removing a requirement to first seek retreat from a perceived attack before responding with lethal force. He also privately told Buckeye Firearms Association, a gun lobby organization, that he would sign the legislation on a candidate questionnaire in 2018.
“We are reviewing the bill, but I would note Governor DeWine has long supported the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms,” said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney in a statement Wednesday evening.
Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, said in a floor speech the legislation is a means of enshrining the right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution and shielding gun owners from “intrusive government overreach.” He said while Ohioans are still encouraged to seek training before carrying, he trusts them enough to remove the requirement.
Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the bill “makes it so you will be able to better enjoy your Second Amendment right,” especially in the wake of “lawlessness” in the country today.
As they have in the past, House Democrats tried to amend into the bill language closing a loophole that allows buyers at gun shows to skirt background checks; another creating a legal mechanism to allow families and law enforcement to petition judges to temporarily seize weapons from people experiencing a mental health crisis; and a third requiring gun sellers to distribute a one-page pamphlet at the point of sale outlining Ohio’s gun laws.
All three failed largely along party lines.
Ohio has steadily relaxed its gun laws over the last 20 years. The state created the concealed carry program in 2004, originally requiring 12 hours of training. It has since passed a pre-emption law blocking cities from enacting stricter gun policies than those of the state. In 2020, DeWine signed the “stand your ground” bill.
“Once again, the Republican supermajority has passed dangerous permitless carry legislation that puts our communities at an even greater risk of gun violence than before,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington. “This completely flies in the face of Ohioans who have called time after time for commonsense gun safety legislation, not extreme bills that endanger the lives of our children and families.”
Gun bills, especially as elections near, are regularly introduced of varying shapes and sizes. Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, who said he owns several guns, said permitless carry is a bad idea. He also questioned why so many gun bills come up for so many votes.
“These are more political gun bills,” he said. “This goes too far.”
At least 21 states allow for the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit, according to a count from the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. Several states including Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming passed such laws last year.
Passage would come as data shows 2021 overtook 2020 for the most gun deaths on record in Ohio, according to data from the state health department . The data shows gun deaths in Ohio increased by 66% between 2007 and 2021.
Public health researchers and anti-gun violence researchers draw links between relaxed gun policies and homicide rates and others. For instance, researchers with the American Journal for Public Health found states with looser concealed carry laws were associated with an 11% increase in handgun homicide rates. The National Bureau of Economic Researchers found states experienced about a 14% higher rate of violent crime after adopting a new concealed carry permitting system similar to Ohio's current one.
Gun advocates — including Wilkin in his floor speech and a Buckeye Firearms Lobbyist in the past — cite 2018 research published by the American College of Surgeons that identified no statistical association between states loosening their gun laws and homicide or violent crime rates. (The ACS advocates, however, for limiting gun sales to people with mental illnesses, increasing penalties for illegal gun sales, and funding public health research on guns.)
In a statement, the Ohio Mayors Alliance called the bill a "dangerous step in the wrong direction" and said cities will bear the brunt ofit.
"Moreover, because our right to local control has been erased by a previously passed state law prohibiting cities from regulating gun laws, local communities will have no ability to protect themselves," the Alliance said in a statement.
Doug Rogers, a retired lawyer and volunteer with the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action, has appeared before lawmakers repeatedly urging them to vote down the bill. On Wednesday, he called on DeWine to veto it.
“This bill should not have gone this far. Law enforcement officers agree – getting rid of our permitting system will put our communities at risk," he said. "Governor DeWine should stand with law enforcement and public safety advocates and veto SB 215.”
In a news alert to followers, Buckeye Firearms Association called the vote "historic" and said no permitless carry bill has ever made it this far in Ohio.
"Twenty one other states have some form of Permitless Carry, and Ohio is poised to become number 22," the alert states. "Stay tuned"
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