Opponents fire back at controversial gun bill

Removing training requirement will get people killed, they say.

Concealed-carry supporters were among those who fired back Wednesday against a proposed law that would toss aside the state’s current licensing procedure and allow those 21 and older to carry hidden guns without training or a permit.

“This has no reasonable application,” said Jeff Pedro, owner and lead firearms instructor at Sim Trainer in Moraine. “Eliminating the training you’re basically saying anyone can go buy a gun, carry it concealed, and ultimately be able to use it. And I know as a trainer and a career law enforcement officer, any gun requires significant training.”

State Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, introduced House Bill 147 on Tuesday. Supporters – including eight co-sponsors from southwest Ohio – say the bill will reduce crime because it will allow people to defend themselves wherever they are threatened. The bill would do away with the CCW restrictions for those 21 and over unless they are prohibited from carrying a firearm.

The line of opponents is fast forming. Pedro, a Kettering police officer for 25 years, said prospective and new owners unfamiliar with guns require a substantive class to learn what type of gun is right for them, how to safely holster and carry a gun, how to properly load, charge and fire a weapon, and how to store a firearm.

“All those things are training issues,” Pedro said. “It’s not something that by birth you just know.”

Instruction is the main goal of the permit process, said Sgt. Ed Buns of the Hamilton Division of Police.

“My fear is that people will carry a gun and not know how to use it and they will get hurt and killed,” he said. “Without the classes, they will have no training, no experience.”

He compared a CCW permit to getting a driver’s license before you get behind the wheel.

“Once that bullet has left the barrel you can’t take it back,” Buns said.

Training requirements already have been decreased by a third because of a bill that went into law just last month, said John Gilchrist, legislative counsel for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. “And now they’ve got this one.”

Gilchrist, whose organization represents more than 600 Ohio police chiefs, is also concerned the bill would allow just about any firearm except automatic rifles and sawed off shotguns to be carried concealed.

“There are more guns than we need in this society and it doesn’t make society safer by having all these people with guns,” he said.

Ohio out of touch?

Firearms legislation is constantly up for debate in the Ohio Statehouse as pro-gun forces advocate for expanded rights and anti-gun groups push for control and restrictions.

Although the current legislative session began less than four months ago, 10 bills are already in the hopper, including Hood’s proposal.

The idea isn’t new.

“It’s been going on for a long time now — at least 14 years,” said Jim Irvine, spokesman for the Buckeye Firearms Association.

Irvine said while the General Assembly is more conservative now than in recent years, it doesn’t mean the bills will gain traction. Pro-gun bills often start in the House but are blocked in the Senate, where political power is more consolidated and it’s harder to get the legislation passed, Irvine said.

He complains that Ohio is “perpetually 10 to 20 years behind what the rest of the country is doing on firearms legislation.”

For example, concealed carry weapons permit holders in Ohio can’t leave their guns in their cars while at work without risking being fired; guns cannot be left in cars while permit holders go inside a school; and someone who uses a gun in self-defense must prove the action was justified, Irvine said. “Ohio’s firearms laws are drastically out of touch with the rest of the country,” he said.

Only Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Vermont and Wyoming currently have a “constitutional carry” laws, the phrase given bills like House Bill 147.

Paul Zeltwangar, R-Mason, one of those who co-sponsored the bill, said since the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, “what’s the purpose of the registering process?” Zeltwangar said there are no negatives associated with the bill.

Other area lawmakers supporting the bill include Reps. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp; Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton; Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield; Nino Vitale, R-Urbana; Jim Buchy, R-Greenville; Margaret Conditt, R-Liberty Twp.; and Ron Maag, R-Lebanon.

After years of advocacy, gun rights groups won a major victory 11 years ago when Ohio adopted its concealed carry weapons law. A second major win for gun groups came when the state barred local jurisdictions from adopting their own gun restrictions and laws.

The advocates have also been able to chip away at the original restrictions on the CCW program — shielding permit holders from public disclosure, allowing them to carry weapons in to bars and restaurants, and reducing the training time required to get a permit.

Among the gun bills that have been introduced this year is one by Maag that would further expand where and when CCW permit holders are allowed to carry their weapons to include college campuses and unsecured areas of police stations and airport terminals.

‘What we have is working’

The current CCW law provides a workable balance for gun rights advocates and law enforcement, said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly. But that’s as far as it should go, he said.

“What we have is working,” Kelly said. “We do training in Ohio, we do an extensive background check and people have to renew their licenses.”

Kelly said even with the current law, the state denies or revokes thousands of concealed carry licenses because the state has found the holder or applicant to be unfit, incompetent or guilty of criminal offenses that would bar ownership of a weapon.

“Law enforcement today is always certainly on guard now. So this would make it even more difficult to do what we need to do,” Kelly said.

Between 2010 and 2014, the state suspended 5,262 licenses, revoked 1,818 and denied 4,356 applications, according to an Ohio Attorney General’s office 2014 report. In 2014, 58,066 new licenses were issued and 52,146 were renewed. Each license is good for five years.

‘I’m on the fence’

Some staunch gun supporters are worried about some of the provisions in House Bill 147.

Larry Manns, part owner of The Gunrunner shop in Monroe, said criminals will carry guns regardless of what the laws say.

But Manns said training should still be required by law. His store holds about 15 CCW classes a year, charging customers $80 for eight hours of training.

Don Roberson, owner of Roberson Sporting Goods in Middletown, has taught a CCW class for the last 11 years.

Roberson doesn’t believe citizens should “have to ask your government if you can carry a gun.”

But whether people should be allowed to carry a gun before receiving any instruction is “really a fine line,” he said.

“I’m on the fence on this,” he said. “There are more positives than negatives. ‘Bad guys’ always will have guns.”

Staff Writer Rick McCrabb contributed to this report.

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