Bill could change conceal carry law in school zones

State Rep. Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield) is sponsoring legislation to clarify how concealed carry permit holders may possess handguns in school safety zones. House Bill 20 would allow a licensee to lock their gun in their motor vehicle while in the immediate process of dropping off or picking up a person, document or item.

Under current state law, conceal carry holders can drop off their children at school with their weapons, but they can’t get out of their vehicle.

“It’s just a tweak to the law to make it more common sense,” Koehler said.

A similar bill, HB 454, passed the Ohio House of Representatives last December by a vote of 81-2, but the bill died in the Ohio Senate. That legislation was sponsored by current State Rep. Bob Hackett (R-London) and former State Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield).

State Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville) introduced the previous bill after a father with a concealed carry license in New Albany was picking up his daughter after school and was spotted with a holstered handgun by another parent, who called police. No law was broken, but Gonzales worked with local law enforcement and determined changes were needed.

The proposed bill, which has been assigned to the State Government Committee, gives the responsible gun owner rules to live by, Koehler said.

“You’re not there for the day or to go to work,” Koehler said. “You’re in the process of picking up, dropping off or taking care of something.”

The Springfield City School District is opposed to the legislation, said Superintendent David Estrop. He cited a 2013 incident at Kenwood Elementary School, when a parent was picking up a student and forgot they were carrying an airsoft pellet gun pistol.

After a custodian saw the pistol, the school was placed on lockdown and police were called to the scene. Estrop described the situation as “general panic.”

The law will create more circumstances when people forget they have their gun as they walk into the school building or forget to lock their vehicle and allow others to have access to it, he said.

“This is a matter of convenience for the gun owners,” Estrop said. “For us, it’s a matter of safety and security. To me, safety and security should always outweigh convenience.”

The proposed law is just clarifying language for concealed carry licensees, said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly, who supports the bill. Clark County has over 3,000 people with concealed carry permits, including many who have children at school.

“They’re making it more appropriate for the number of people we legally have who have permits and may have a need to go to their children’s schools,” Kelly said.

The Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association hasn’t taken a position on the bill yet, Kelly said, but is expected to discuss it at this month’s meeting.

If the legislation does pass, Estrop hopes the legislature will allow local decision-making to be included in the bill. That way, school districts can determine if they want to enact the law.

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for the entire state in this case, he added.

“Let the boards and superintendents in each district make that decision instead of having big government in Columbus dictate that we now have to have more guns on campus,” Estrop said.

The normalization of weapons in and around school safety zones is becoming an increasingly disturbing trend, said Jennifer Thorne, executive director of the Columbus-based Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. The organization will likely testify against the legislation once hearing dates are set, she said.

“Instead of increasing the number of guns in vehicles in our school safety zones, our legislature should be focusing on common sense regulation like child access prevention laws or background checks on gun sales,” Thorne said.

Jim Irvine, Chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association, says currently a person would have to drive back home and drop off their gun before going into the school.

“When your kid is sick and you need to go sign him out, that’s not what everyone wants,” Irvine said.

The current law makes no sense, Irvine said, and HB 20 somewhat fixes the problem.

“It doesn’t change everything and solve the whole thing, but it makes it much better,” he said.

The legislation could lead to problems at schools, said Springfield resident Shirley Petrauskas.

“Kids can break into cars and get the guns or anybody can break in,” Petrauskas said. “I wouldn’t like to see that happen.”

Legislation introduced Tuesday would allow Ohio residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit, if the bill becomes law. Six other states have similar laws, known as “constitutional carry” by proponents. Koehler is also co-sponsoring the legislation.

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