Two measures further expanding gun rights moving in Ohio Statehouse

By: - October 13, 2023 4:50 am

State Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, during the Ohio Senate session, February 8, 2023, in the Senate Chamber at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

A pair of gun bills backed by Ohio Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, are quietly making their way through committees. Both proposals are prospective in nature — seeking not so much to change existing policy, but to anticipate and forestall potential changes in the future.

For nearly a decade in the state House and Senate, Johnson has been a consistent voice pushing for more expansive gun rights in Ohio. He was the driving force behind last year’s sweeping concealed carry changes allowing most adults to carry without a permit. Before that he sponsored several stand your ground measures.

His current bills are a bit more technical but respond to perceived threats among gun rights activists. The first prohibits local governments from requiring liability insurance for gun owners; the second relates to a new merchant code for gun and ammunition retailers.

Liability insurance

New Jersey and the city of San Jose, California approved legislation last year requiring gun owners get liability insurance and/or pay an annual fee. Both laws are the subject of ongoing federal court challenges. And, importantly, neither San Jose nor New Jersey are part of Ohio.

Still, Johnson wants to head off any local jurisdictions that might try to replicate those provisions. To this point, no municipality is actively considering firearm liability insurance requirements.

His bill, which has already passed the state Senate and is working its way through a House committee, adds “without being required to have firearm liability insurance” to the Ohio statute preempting local gun regulations. It includes similar prohibitions for imposing a fee on gun owners, and extends the same protections to knives.

No one showed up to speak in a committee hearing Wednesday, but two groups representing local leaders submitted testimony in opposition. Kent Scarrett, who leads the Ohio Municipal League, argued the legislation would exceeds state’s constitutional authority.

“Regardless of one’s position on guns or knives, this legislation prevents a municipality from enacting the wishes of their local voters on this important matter related to the safety of the community,” he wrote. “Furthermore, it would allow for civil actions against Ohio’s cities and villages, opening them up to frivolous legal challenges and costly expenses.”

The Ohio Mayors Alliance took a slightly different tack. Like the OML, it argued lawmakers should reject the legislation because it would violate Ohio’s home rule authority. The alliance was quick to add no municipality is considering the provisions the bill outlaws. But, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, the organization pitched lawmakers on an addition if they insist on passing the bill.

“We urge you, should you choose to advance this bill against our recommendation,” the alliance wrote, “to add an amendment to the bill that will give cities the permissive authority to impose reasonable safe storage laws for firearms.”

Merchant codes

Johnson’s other proposal got its first hearing Tuesday. Most Ohioans have probably never heard of the organization whose actions served as the impetus for the bill. The International Organization for Standardization is nonprofit based in Geneva that publishes guidelines to keep industries on the same page across different countries.

One of their recent changes gives gun and ammunition retailers their own merchant code. Whenever you swipe a credit or debit card, a batch of the information flows back to your financial institution. Part of that is a four-digit code identifying what kind of business you’re paying. Until the most recent revisions, most gun retailers were listed as sporting goods stores or general retailers.

Gun control advocates contend being able to distinguish gun sellers from other stores might help payment processors identify suspicious transactions and tip off authorities. Notably, credit card companies or banks wouldn’t be able to identify what a cardholder purchased — just where they purchased it.

Johnson called that “financial discrimination.” He explained his bill “prohibit(s) a financial institution from requiring the use of a firearms code, declining a lawful transaction involving a firearms retailer, based solely on whether or not the transaction is assigned a firearms code or disclosing financial records.”

But it goes a step further to address long standing fears of government surveillance.

“It also prohibits,” Johnson said, “any government entity from keeping a list or registry of firearms or firearms owners.”

In a letter earlier this year 14 U.S. Senate Democrats urged the Treasury Department of the U.S. Attorney General to publish guidance for financial institutions to implement the new code. They argued transaction data could potentially reduce gun trafficking and straw purchases. It would also make it easier to identify when someone is making purchases at multiple stores to avoid required reporting.

But like Johnson’s liability insurance bill, the legislation’s prohibitions may be unnecessary. After Republican pushback, the three biggest credit card companies announced they were putting implementation of the new codes on hold.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.