Constitutional Carry not last item on Ohio 2A activists' to-do list

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

While the passage of permitless carry legislation is probably going to be the biggest win for Second Amendment advocates in the Buckeye State this year, pro-2A organizations are hoping it won’t be the last.

That doesn’t mean, however, that all of the pro-gun groups in the state have the same priorities.

With Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, representatives from the Buckeye Firearms Association and Ohio Gun Owners pointed to three bills they hope will soon be enacted.

Two of the three bills have already passed one chamber of the General Assembly – one prohibiting the state from curtailing firearm access during a state of emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, and another that would allow educators to be armed at school without receiving peace officer training.

The third bill, which has yet to receive a vote in either chamber, would declare Ohio as a Second Amendment “safe haven” by allowing the state more leeway in refusing to enforce federal rulings that legislators deem an unconstitutional infringement upon the right to bear arms.

“Gun owners in Ohio have been treated so unfairly for so long by Republican supermajorities that gun owners elected,” Dorr said. “Passing bills like constitutional carry is only the start.”

That third bill is the top priority for Dorr and Ohio Gun Owners. HB 62, otherwise known as the Ohio Second Amendment Safe Haven Act, is very similar to Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, which was approved last year. It’s also substantially the same as a bill introduced in Wyoming this year that was passed over by the Republican supermajority in favor of a bill that wasn’t run by Wyoming Gun Owners; another group affiliated with Dorr and his brothers that has been criticized by lawmakers and 2A in several states for doing more to raise money for themselves than truly advancing the cause of the Second Amendment.

I think it’s pretty telling that HB 62 hasn’t even had a committee vote despite being introduced in the legislature more than a year ago. One of the issues may well be Ohio Gun Owners itself, but the language of HB 62 is also likely to keep many Republicans from signing on since it attempts to nullify federal gun control laws; a strategy that has not fared well at all in the legal system.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that HB 62 is going nowhere, not because Republican majorities have treated Ohio gun owners unfairly (a ridiculous claim to make given the passage of Constitutional Carry this year), but because of the inherent flaws in the bill and who is actually pushing it.

The two remaining pieces of pro-gun legislation, on the other hand, could very well win final approval in the coming weeks.

Rob Sexton, legislative director for Buckeye Firearms Association, said HB 325 was largely inspired by law enforcement’s confiscation of guns from some New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a safety precaution.

“They forgot they were privately owned; it’s people’s property,” Sexton said. “You’re literally taking away people’s rights to defend themselves.”

More recently, Sexton said the states of emergency that popped up across the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted further concern from pro-gun groups that governments could use their authority to inhibit gun ownership and access.

He pointed to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to suspend the operations of gun dealers in April 2020 through an executive order that temporarily suspended activities “not necessary to sustain or protect life,” according to her executive order.

“By and large, Governor DeWine did not take actions to infringe upon gun owners during his declared emergency, but seeing what was done elsewhere gives you a window into what could happen here,” Sexton said.

I went through this in Virginia, where we do have an emergency powers law that prohibits the governor from using stats of emergency to curtail the Second Amendment rights of residents. While then-Gov. Ralph Northam (who actually voted in favor of the emergency powers protections bill when he was a legislator) couldn’t shut down gun stores, he did try to shut down gun ranges during the stay-at-home orders in early 2020 by declaring them non-essential. It ultimately took a court fight before the governor backed down. I would encourage Ohio lawmakers to not only pass this legislation, but to ensure that it protects gun ranges as well as gun stores and individual gun owners during declared states of emergencies.

I’m also very supportive of HB 99, which would undo a damaging court decision requiring armed school staff in the state to undergo more than 700 hours of law enforcement training before they can serve as a first line of defense against a targeted attack on a school campus.

Schools are free to require more than 24 hours of training, but Sexton said the vast majority of the 737 hours mandated for peace officer training has nothing to do with shooting a firearm, thus futile for educators who wish to keep students safe by carrying a gun at school.

“Miranda rights, transporting prisoners, how to properly take a statement, so all these things that are completely unrelated to the problem that we’re trying to solve,” Sexton said.

There were already dozens of districts in Ohio that had armed school staff in place when that court decision came down, and there had been no problems reported in any of the schools where teachers and school employees had volunteered, been vetted, and trained to protect the kids in their care. HB 99 is a true piece of common sense legislation, and one that’s critically important for student safety in rural or smaller districts that might not be able to have a school resource officer on every campus.

With HB 325 and HB 99 having already cleared the state House, it’s definitely possible that both could be approved by the Senate and get to Mike DeWine’s desk in the not-too-distant future, but the odds will improve if Ohio’s gun owners continue to stay involved and engaged and let lawmakers know that, while their support for Constitutional Carry is appreciated and will be remembered, their work protecting the right to keep and bear arms isn’t over yet.