Ohio bill would protect 2A rights during riots, other states of emergency

Ohio bill would protect 2A rights during riots, other states of emergency
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Given Ohio’s darn good gun laws (ranging from Constitutional Carry to statewide firearms preemption), I kind of assumed that the state had already passed emergency powers legislation several years ago, but that’s not the case. As things stand, cities run by anti-gun politicians could theoretically order a halt to all gun sales during a declared state of emergency, or even attempt to prohibit the lawful carrying of firearms. Though any such actions would be challenged in court, a decision from a judge could take weeks or months to arrive and come far too late to provide relief for any gun owner impacted.

That’s why Republican lawmakers in Ohio proposed a simple fix: legislation that makes it clear our right to keep and bear arms remains intact during any declared emergency. The state Senate has already approved SB 185, and on Thursday the Ohio House signed off on the measure as well.

The bill, which passed 55 to 22, would prevent all state agencies, political subdivisions (cities, counties, townships), and elected or appointed officials from restricting access to firearms during different states of emergencies. This would include things like required gun registrations, seizing weapons, banning the sale of ammunition, limiting the operating hours at shooting ranges or prohibiting otherwise lawful hunting.

The idea for the legislation sprang from the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine carved out an exemption for gun stores in his stay-at-home orders, but other states did not.

“This bill does not add any additional gun rights,” Schaffer said. “It simply clarifies that people cannot have their rights taken away during a time of a declared emergency.”

Democrats see this as favoring gun stores over other retailers in a potentially unconstitutional way. And they think it might violate Ohio’s home rule provision of the state constitution by not letting cities decide how best to handle emergency situations like a riot.

Also, state lawmakers already restrict what people can and can’t do at demonstrations, Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester, said. Ohio recently banned bricks at protests and other rallies.

“So, you can’t bring a brick to a demonstration,” Brown said. “But you can go buy a gun during a riot.”

Well, yes. Generally speaking, people don’t buy bricks for self-defense. Wanting to purchase a firearm to protect yourself or your family during civil unrest, on the other hand, is a perfectly reasonable decision to make, and a course that millions of Americans chose to follow in 2020 as riots broke out across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

More importantly, it doesn’t sound like Brown or any of the other Democrats who oppose SB 185 can explain why, exactly, a fundamental civil right of armed self-defense should be negated at a time when it’s needed most. As the bill’s House sponsor pointed out, it’s not the legislation expands the right to keep and bear arms in any way. It just ensures that cities like Columbus and Cleveland can’t abuse the rights of their residents by declaring them null and void during any civil unrest or other states of emergency. Democrats can huff and puff about home rule powers, but no city should have the power to strip law-abiding residents of their constitutionally-protected rights just because they think it’s a good idea.

The House did make some minor changes to SB 185 before it was approved, so the bill now heads back to the Senate for a concurrence vote instead of going directly to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk. Still, SB 185 looks like its on track to win final approval before this year’s lame duck session concludes, and it’s enactment would be a great way to cap off a good year for gun owners and Second Amendment advocates in the Buckeye State.