Business groups are fighting an Ohio Senate proposal that will open them up to civil lawsuits by employees and others who bring handguns on to company property.
“For us this isn’t a concealed carry issue as much as this is an employer rights issue,” said Chris Kershner, vice president, public policy & economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Employers should be able to manage the actions in their private business on their private property, period.”
Ohio’s newly expanded concealed carry law - passed in December as Senate Bill 199 - lets people with concealed carry permits bring their guns onto private property regardless of the policies and wishes of the company or property owner.
The gun must remain stored in the permit holder’s private vehicle.
But the law did not include any penalties for companies that do not comply and gun rights advocates have called for teeth to be added to it.
A provision in the Ohio Senate’s version of the proposed state budget would do that by creating a civil liability for employers and property owners if they try to prevent concealed-carry permit holders from bringing their guns onto private property.
John Fortney, spokesman for Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said the new provision is needed to concealed-carry permit holders who are following the rules don’t face unfair discipline at work.
“It doesn’t make sense for someone to lose their job for being responsible and following the law,” Fortney said.
The provision has prompted the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and 17 other business groups to send a letter strongly opposing the new provision to Obhof and Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.
The letter is signed by groups representing retailers, manufacturers, contractors, auto dealers, financial service and insurance companies, attorneys, and other businesses
“We were opposed to Senate Bill 199 last year,” said Don Boyd, director of labor and legal affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. “We believed it infringes on employers’ private property rights and everyone’s private property rights. It also applies to every property owner and business owner in the state.”
Boyd said the business groups hope the provision will be removed in the final version of the state’s two-year budget that is being discussed now in a 6-member conference committee made up of members of the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives. The House version of the state budget does not include the provision.
“Looking at this new amendment we think it just exacerbates the problems of 199 by creating a new way to file a lawsuit against employers and private property owners,” Boyd said. “It’s a step backward for Ohio’s legal climate.”
The Senate provision would allow the business or property owner to be sued in civil court and the plaintiff awarded compensatory damages, injunctive relief, costs and attorney’s fees.
A lawsuit could be filed against a property owner, or employer “who establishes, maintains, or enforces a policy that prohibits a valid concealed handgun licensee from transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in the person’s privately owned motor vehicle in accordance with existing law conditions,” according to a summary of the budget provision by the state’s non-partisan Legislative Service Commission.
“Penalties are needed because some businesses have refused to comply with the spirit of the law,” said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association.
He said some employers are “harassing” employees who bring guns to work in their cars by asking them to come forward and show proof of a concealed carry permit and gun safety training.
It was opposed by gun safety advocates and business groups but supported by gun rights advocates who said it allows people to have their weapons with them if they need to defend themselves on the way to and from work.
The concealed carry law originally would have established concealed carry holders as a protected class under civil rights laws but that was removed after businesses objected.
The law does let colleges, universities, and local government officials allow concealed carry permit holders to bring guns onto their property. Kershner said private businesses should have given private property owners and businesses the same right to choose to keep guns out.
“This is about employers being able to operate with less government interference,” Kershner said.
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