Ohio bill would protect 2A rights during states of emergency

Ohio bill would protect 2A rights during states of emergency
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

We know that the left never lets a crisis go to waste (to borrow a phrase from former Chicago mayor and Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel), especially when it comes to using a crisis to clamp down on our right to keep and bear arms. It’s been less than two years since many blue-state governors used the COVID pandemic and stay-at-home orders to declare that gun stores and ranges were “unessential business,” keeping them shuttered for months at a time and depriving countless Americans the ability to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

While the courts have mostly taken a dim view of those disruptions and declared them unconstitutional, that doesn’t mean we won’t see the same thing happen at some point in the future, which is why Republicans in the Ohio statehouse are pushing legislation that would ensure that residents maintain access to their Second Amendment rights in any future state of emergency.

House Bill 325, introduced last May by Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wayne County, was a response to Gov. Mike DeWine’s closure of businesses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, other governors restricting gun sales during the pandemic and protests in Ohio and around the country in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Wiggam said during testimony at the bill’s first hearing in late September the proposal defined rights to buy, possess, carry, transport, train and use firearms in conjunction with exercising rights to protect themselves and feed their families as life sustaining.

“During the COVID pandemic, it became evident that local, state and federal governments have wide powers to declare an emergency and implement restrictions on citizens’ rights,” Wiggam testified. “Fortunately, in Ohio, these powers were not used to infringe on Second Amendment rights. However, this was not the case in other states.”

From New Jersey to California we saw governors order gun stores closed, and in many cases it took a court challenge to get these anti-gun politicians to back down.

Some might say that Ohio doesn’t have to worry about that, given that Republicans are in charge of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. But one 2A activist in the state says present conditions may not last forever, and lawmakers should create these protections before it’s too late.

“Waiting until Ohio’s political behavior is less friendly toward gun owners simply means those protections will never be enacted,” Rob Sexton, legislative affairs director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, testified at the time. “Twenty-four states have made it crystal clear. Ohio should be next.”

As a Virginian, I can testify first-hand to the importance of not delaying a vote on an issue like this. Back in 2006 the Virginia legislature approved a bill in response to the confiscation of lawfully-owned firearms in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that specifically prohibited “the Governor, any political subdivision, or any other governmental authority to in any way limit or prohibit the rights of the people to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution of Virginia or the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, including the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms except to the extent necessary to ensure public safety in any place or facility designated or used by the Governor, any political subdivision of the Commonwealth, or any other governmental entity as an emergency shelter or for the purpose of sheltering persons.”

At the time, then-legislator Ralph Northam voted in favor of the bill, but by 2020 he saw things differently. Gov. Northam was prevented by state law from shutting down gun stores, but the emergency powers provision said nothing about gun ranges, and that’s where Northam struck; declaring them to be non-essential entertainment venues like bowling alleys or video arcades. A Virginia range sued and won its case in circuit court, and Democrat AG Mark Herring decided not to appeal the decision, but I have no doubt that if we didn’t have the law specifically barring the governor from going after our 2A rights during a state of emergency Northam would have joined Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and others in ordering all gun stores closed along with gun ranges.

Today’s hearing will be the fourth for HB 325, and it’s time for Ohio lawmakers to move this bill out of committee and on to the House floor for a vote. There’s nothing controversial or outrageous about this bill. Yes, in a perfect world it would also be unnecessary, but sadly, as we’ve seen with our own eyes the threat to our right to keep and bear arms from anti-gun politicians is real, and it only gets worse when they’re given more power and authority during states of emergencies.