The Ohio Legislature’s drive to expand the places where concealed weapons can be carried was met with skepticism by some local officials and concern over how they would keep the public and their employees safe at city hall, county buildings, airports and college campuses.
While the bill allows university and library trustees and private owners of day care centers to decide whether to let concealed carry (CCW) permit holders inside, it does not give that freedom to city and county officials.
House Bill 48 was amended and approved in a party-line vote by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate 23-9 late Wednesday and is on track for approval in the House.
The bill requires cities and counties to let people with CCW permits carry them into any municipal or county building unless those buildings have security screening equipment and staff at entryways. The bill would also allow CCW permit holders to carry guns in the public portion of the city-owned Dayton International Airport that is not beyond screening equipment.
“It is unfortunate that the legislature rushes through this kind of stuff in a lame duck session without allowing more feedback and analysis by local governments effected by what they do,” said Springfield City Law Director Jerry Strozdas. “It’s also a shame that they continue to disregard the local government in making decisions that directly affect them in their facilities.”
Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said if the bill becomes law the city ” will likely need to make a sizable investment to ensure city-owned buildings remain safe.”
Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., defended the bill.
“We believe that all citizens should be safe and protected. If the local government doesn’t wish to provide a safe and secure environment, citizens will be able to protect themselves,” Coley said.
The Ohio Municipal League will ask Ohio Gov. John Kasich to veto the bill, said Executive Director Kent Scarrett.
“Our communities don’t have the resources to invest in this screening process and metal detectors,” Scarrett said. “This is just another preemption by the state government in our ability to control the issues that we feel are in our jurisdiction.”
He said government buildings are public places where passions can sometimes run high and the league’s members are concerned that easy access to weapons could lead to something terrible in those cases. And he said there is also the danger of “friendly fire” casualties if there is a gun incident and other armed people start shooting too.
In the city of Kettering 12 of 13 buildings, including the recreation center, will likely have to let armed people inside because the city cannot afford to add metal detectors and staff beyond what is currently at the municipal courts building, said City Manager Mark Schwieterman.
“I know our employees will be on edge about that,” he said. “We make decisions on a daily basis that impact citizens either positively or negatively. Because of that and not knowing whether that person is carrying a gun adds tension.”
Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley said if the law is passed and signed by Kasich it will cost “millions of dollars” for the county to secure its buildings.
“This legislation was written with no consideration to the financial and operational ramifications on local governments and our taxpayers, as well as the impact on the general public’s safety in government facilities,” Foley said. “This is another in a long line of unfunded directives by the State of Ohio on local government.”
Xenia City spokesman Lee Warren said “it would greatly impact our ability to safety secure our facilities.”
The bill also allows concealed carry into child care centers - currently banned under Ohio law - but allows the private operators to decide if weapons can come in.
“If it passes and we were allowed to carry I would have to give it a lot of thought,” said Sue Engler, owner and director of Wee-Haven Children’s Center in Kettering.
She said she has a CCW permit and owns guns but doesn’t bring them to work. Engler said she would never let her teachers carry concealed weapons and she leans toward prohibiting parents from carrying guns into the child care center. She said it would frighten the children if they saw someone with a gun.
The bill also allows CCW permit holders to carry guns on public and private college campuses and at public libraries but only if boards of trustees vote to allow concealed weapons.
“We’re pleased that the bill maintains a prohibition for carrying concealed weapons on campus,” said Wright State University President David Hopkins.
Based on his conversations with staff, students, and his chief of police, Hopkins does not think Wright State should allow guns on campus, but he said it will be up to his trustees to decide.
Officials at Sinclair Community College, the University of Dayton, Cedarville University and Dayton Metro Library were also glad the legislature left the final decision up to their boards.
“We all want to protect our families, We certainly want to protect our patrons,” said Tim Kambitsch, library executive director. “I’m just happy this allows us to make that decision for our own institution.”