Ohio’s CCW permits up, but state trails neighbors

Permits to carry concealed weapons in Ohio have surged this year, but the state still trails its closest neighbors in permits because of what observers call stricter laws that have undergone recent changes.

The state’s sheriffs issued 16,823 CCW permits in the first three months of 2012. That was a 40.3 percent increase from the first quarter of 2010, when 11,989 permits were issued.

Ohio finished 2011 ranked 11th nationally in estimated total active permits (270,000) and 25th in permits as a percentage of adult population (3.2), according to figures compiled by the Government Accountability Office. By comparison, Pennsylvania had an estimated 786,000 permits, or 8.3 percent of the adult population, while Indiana had 406,000 permits, or 8.7 percent of the adult population.

Gun rights supporters say recent changes to laws, including allowing concealed weapons in restaurants and bars that serve liquor as well as in school safety zones, have increased residents’ comfort in acquiring permits more than eight years after they were first issued. Gun control advocates applaud Ohio’s low rank in CCW ratio, saying it signals that relatively few residents are interested in carrying concealed guns.

Several other bills are under consideration that would further ease gun control in the state, including eliminating background checks and gun safety classes, repealing the requirement to alert police to the presence of a weapon at a traffic stop, making renewals easier and increasing Ohio’s cooperation in allowing permits to apply in multiple states (called reciprocity).

“I think that when this law went into effect in Ohio people thought every corner bar would be the OK Corral,” said Keith Bailey, past president and current secretary of the Ohio Rifle and Pistol Association. “That certainly has been proven wrong, although some still have their concerns. Personally, I think by and large, since some changes were made, the laws now make sense.”

Ohio’s concealed carry law went into effect in April 2004. In the first year, 47,497 permits were issued, a number that dropped to as low as 18,781 in 2006 before reaching its high point at 56,691 in 2009. In 2011, 49,828 were issued.

Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said Ohio would rank higher nationally in total permits issued if its law had existed as long as some other states’ laws.

“Ohio has only had concealed carry for eight years, whereas lots of states have had it for 15, 20 years plus,” Irvine said. “The longer you have it in place, the more people are going to get, so that’s part of the reason we don’t rank up higher.”

There are four states that have reached double-digits in CCW permits as a percentage of adult population: Utah (19.3), Georgia (11.5), Iowa (10.9) and South Dakota (10.6). That Ohio’s rate was about 3.2 percent at year’s end signals that arguments about laws in Ohio affect relatively few people, said Toby Hoover, executive director at the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

“We’re passing an awful lot of laws for an awful lot of leeway for 3 percent of the population,” Hoover said. “That’s my question here: What are we doing trying to give people all these rights when 97 percent of the people don’t think they have to walk around with a gun in their pocket all the time?”

Both pro- and anti-gun officials agreed that gun purchases and CCW permits usually rise soon before and after presidential elections, as residents are unsure about changes to laws if a new administration comes into power. Both sides also said they will be monitoring the numbers.

According to the GAO report, states continue to vary in what, if any, training is necessary before acquiring a permit and whether the state can apply discretion in granting permits, among other elements.

In all, there were about 8 million active CCW permits nationally in 2011, led by Florida’s 887,000.

“As we clean up the law and make it better, I think we’ll see Ohio climb in those numbers,” Irvine said. “It’s a reflection of where we are in concealed carry, that we’re in the bottom half of the country in terms of having a user-friendly law.”

Said Hoover, “I think (the numbers will rise) as long as somebody can keep feeding people fear to believe in. You never know what’s going to happen once someone can convince everybody that everybody else out there is armed. They’ll think, ‘Really? Are we the only family not doing this?’ ”

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