Ohio is getting more firearm-friendly and the appetite for buying guns has increased as President Barack Obama moves to enact further restrictions on who can buy and sell firearms.
Background checks from sales by federally-licensed gun dealers have more than doubled in Ohio in eight years, or roughly the tenure of the Obama presidency.
Actual sales numbers are certainly much higher. Sales are not tracked on purchases made from unlicensed sellers, who don’t typically initiate background checks on buyers.
Obama’s new executive guidelines will cast a wider net, requiring many gun sellers previously considered hobbyists to initiate background checks.
But as the president moves toward initiating more gun control measures, Ohio is traveling in a counter direction. The Ohio General Assembly in recent years has eased some restrictions on firearms and ammunition. More rollbacks could be coming.
Industry experts doubt business will slow down as a result of Obama’s executive action on guns.
“The joke on the industry side is Obama is the best president the firearms manufacturing industry has had,” said Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association.
Background checks tell the tale. In 2007, the year before Obama was elected, 326,114 background checks were conducted in Ohio; in 2015, the number jumped to 748,502.
That increase is mirrored in many other states, although the numbers have been declining in some states with strict gun laws. Massachusetts, which has some of the most stringent gun control laws in the nation, has seen a 33 percent drop in background checks since 2013. During that same span, Ohio had a 9 percent increase.
Background checks are the primary indicator that a firearm was purchased, though they do not represent the number of firearms sold. Still, the numbers are helpful to show patterns in sales and comparisons between states.
Ohio is far from a front runner when it comes to gun sales, but the distinction does belong to one of its neighbors: Kentucky, which led all states in the number of background checks conducted in 2015, with 3.2 million. California was next with 1.7 million and Texas had 1.5 million. Ohio’s 748,502 ranked eighth.
Evan English, owner of Olde English Outfitters in Tipp City, doesn’t think the president’s proposals will affect how he does business at his retail store.
“Will we get audited more? Yeah. Are we ready for that? Sure. You are either compliant or not,” English said. “I don’t think it will in any way curtail legal purchases as they are being executed. They are not aiming at the law-abiding citizen or law-abiding dealer. They are trying to pick up some of what they call the grey area.”
Gun control advocates don’t rank Ohio highly for its gun laws.
Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney with the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, gave Ohio a “D” rank for its regulation of firearms. The reason? Ohio doesn’t mandate background checks for sales at gun shows, like New York, New Jersey and 16 other states do. And the state doesn’t require a firearms dealer to have a state license in addition to a federal license. There are 15 states — including Indiana — that require such a license, which Cutilletta said is needed because the federal agency is understaffed and underfunded.
But Ohio fared better in the group’s rankings than several other states, which received Fs. They included Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming and Kansas, which Cutilletta said allows concealed carry without a permit.
“There’s a lot more Ohio can do,” she said. “It could do some things that are more modest, like keeping domestic abusers from accessing firearms.”
Meanwhile, Ohio moved to become a more “gun friendly” state last year via an omnibus gun bill that took effect in March. The legislation signed into law by Gov. John Kasich had a number of changes that met with approval by some in the firearms-owning community.
For example, the bill eliminates the 30-round limitation on magazine capacity, reduces the number of training hours to obtain an Ohio concealed handgun license from 12 to 8 hours, changes the requirements for concealed carry permits so misdemeanor convictions are no longer disqualifications, and allows the use of sound suppressors for hunting.
Two more proposals are pending. The first, House Bill 48, would allow concealed carry in certain parts of airports, schools and daycare establishments.
A second part would allow the boards of trustees at universities and community colleges — where a number of mass shootings nationally have occurred — to decide whether concealed firearms can be carried on campus.
That proposal has passed the state House and is pending in the Ohio Senate.
House Bill 152, which has had hearings in a House committee, would be more sweeping, allowing concealed carry without a permit. The bill, which goes under the title “Constitutional Carry,” is controversial and less likely to pass than the other bill, said state Rep. Niraj Antani, R- Miamisburg, a co-sponsor of both bills.
“The argument for that is that the Second Amendment allows us the ability to keep and bear arms, and the Constitution doesn’t say you have to get a certificate from the government or training,” Antani said. “I make the argument: We have single mothers and college students who can’t spend hours or $100 to get a concealed carry permit.”
Antani believes the problem of gun violence is beyond the reach of current legislative action, pointing out that shootings cited by the president involved firearms that were purchased with a background check at some point.
“If he wants to talk of meaningful ways to curb gun violence, I am open to that. We can check anything, but if a mentally ill person steals that gun, it doesn’t solve anything,” Antani said. “The real problem is a culture of violence and not helping the mentally ill.”
The San Bernadino, Calif., terrorist attacks fired up the demand for firearms training in the state, Antani said, and he has a prediction for the future.
“I think we will become more gun friendly,” Antani said.
The Buckeye Firearms Association’s Irving thinks the president’s initiatives could spur the Ohio legislature to loosen restrictions even further.
“I hope a Republican-dominated legislature reacts to a Democratic president’s power-grab and comes out strong,” said Irving, who lobbies on behalf of the industry. “These are state issues, and we will push back.”
‘It is personal’
The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence blames the gun lobby for blocking controls it says would help protect the public.
“Ohioans are living in a culture of fear, plagued by gun violence and perpetuated by the gun lobby,” the group said last week. “Polling shows that 90 percent of Americans support background checks on all guns sold in this country to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. While the gun lobby is spouting over-the-top rhetoric in anticipation of these actions, the bottom line is that these regulations will increase public safety.”
Toby Hoover, the coalition’s founder, began the organization in Toledo after a mid-1990s surge in gun violence in the city. It was personal, too.
Her first husband, Dale Stone, was killed by a Michigan felon, John Auld, who escaped from a state prison and purchased a gun on the streets. Auld entered a hardware store in 1973. Her husband, who owned the store with his father, was shot by Auld and died hours later in the hospital. Auld was caught, returned to prison and died there.
“It is personal, and that part never goes away,” Hoover said.
Hoover’s coalition has lobbied successfully for concealed carry restrictions over the years, some of which are now being stripped from state law. But a key provision the group sponsored still stands, allowing businesses and public entities to adopt policies that bar firearms from entering the door.
Hoover approves of the president’s proposals because she thinks gun sellers will be more careful about who they sell to. “Anyone selling a weapon to somebody else ought to know whether the person is a prohibited buyer,” she said.
She doubts Obama’s proposals will change the state’s appetite for firearms but says more citizens carrying firearms won’t stop gun violence.
“The idea that firearms training can help me save the world. It’s foolish to think you can do what a police officer can do,” she said. “They train all the time.”