Local leaders, police officers and state lawmakers have “serious concerns” that a law could pass this year allowing concealed gun carry without permits, training or police notification.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, City Council, top-ranking city officers and the Fraternal Order of Police came together Monday to support a resolution opposing House Bill 174, which would allow Ohioans to conceal deadly weapons, not just handguns, without a permit. If pulled over, they would no longer have to notify police of a loaded weapon within reach.

Republican authors Ron Hood of Ashville (south of Columbus) and Tom Brinkman of Mount Lookout (a suburb of Cincinnati) say this latest “constitutional carry” bill is “all about” letting law-abiding gun owners protect themselves. Opponents are calling it an “anti-police” move that “threatens public safety” by turning Ohio into “the wild, wild West.”

The 140-page bill introduced Friday has not yet been assigned to a House committee. House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was not available to give his position or whether the gun deregulation would be a priority, especially with lawmakers falling behind schedule on the transportation and operating budgets.

But while former Gov. John Kasich issued vetoes while citing U.S. Supreme Court law that "the right to bear arms is not unlimited," newly elected Gov. Mike DeWine has not been tested on his vocal support of the Second Amendment, which some interpret as guaranteeing universal, unimpeded access to guns.

Democrats, including Reps. Casey Weinstein of Hudson and Tavia Galonski of Akron, have voiced only disapproval of the new bill. Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, the minority leader in the Ohio House, is focused on health care, worker’s rights and other economic issues, though her staff is concerned that Republicans may finally have broad enough support to pass sweeping gun deregulation.

Twenty-nine of 61 Republicans in the Ohio House, almost all of them white from small towns or rural areas, are co-sponsoring the bill. Two Republicans who haven't signed on represent Summit County. And they split on the issue.

In his fourth term, Rep. Anthony DeVitis of Green said it’s “not wise” to eliminate the duty to notify police when carrying a concealed weapon. “I just feel that that’s not a smart thing to do away with. I also don’t agree with doing away with training to get a concealed carry permit.”

First-term Rep. Bill Roemer of Richfield said he supports many of the proposed changes but won’t attach his name to the bill until it lands on the floor of the House for a final vote.

In its current form, HB 147 allows any firearm not prohibited by federal law, including rifles and shotguns, to be concealed. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Roemer said. “I don’t see the difference between concealing your 20-gauge shotgun or your 9 mm Beretta [handgun].”

Current law requires permit holders to undergo training to conceal only handguns. The law change would allow Ohioans at least 21 years old with no disqualifying federal crimes to conceal carry without training or a permit.

Akron Police Maj. Michael Caprez said that could put his uniformed officers and the people they serve in danger. “Really the linchpin about why we should oppose this bill,” he said, is the elimination of penalties for motorists who don't notify police of possessing a gun while keeping their hands on the wheel.

"It just makes it so much safer for everybody concerned if we know that someone is carrying a gun," said Frank Williams, president of the Akron police union. "I know the bad guys don't always follow that rule."

Throwing out the increasingly popular concealed carry permits would create blind spots in the law enforcement database that links license plates with concealed permit holders. The system lets patrol officers know when they might encounter lawful gun owners.

Caprez believes that, if the new law passes, other states could dictate what Ohio considers a "deadly weapon." And police officers trained to spot automatic guns prohibited by federal law would not be permitted to stop someone on the street to inspect the weapon.

“Do we have any idea why this makes sense?” At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien asked. “It sounds like the wild, wild West.”

“Our men and women in blue deserve better. The men and women in these (Council) chambers deserve better. And my grandbabies deserve better,” said Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith.

In Akron, legislators are asking for "sensible gun reform" to reduce homicides. Thirty-three of the 37 homicides in Akron last year were committed with guns. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recording more gun-related deaths than in any year since tracking began in 1979.

“Gun violence continues to foster fear, trauma and loss in communities in Akron and across Ohio,” the mayor stated in his resolution opposing House Bill 174.

“A bill of this nature is introduced probably every General Assembly session,” city spokeswoman Ellen Lander Nischt said. “What’s different this time is that Gov. [Mike] DeWine has expressed general support for the bill so it’s likely that if it passes, the governor will sign it.”

In terms of attracting attention, Rep. DeVitis said the gun issue is no different than a recent gasoline tax proposal. "People are concerned with things that impact them," he said. "And that's a good way to be. Get involved. Reach out to your representative and senator and stay engaged."

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.