COLUMBUS - Ohioans who pass background checks and undergo handgun training would be permitted to carry concealed handguns under a controversial bill that cleared a key legislative hurdle yesterday.
The House Civil and Commercial Law Committee voted 8-3 to send the measure to the full House for a vote today. Speaker of the House Larry Householder (R., Glenford) predicted it will pass with bipartisan support, despite Gov. Bob Taft's pledge to veto it for lack of support from law enforcement organizations such as the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Fraternal Order of Police.
“This bill has as stringent a background check as you have when you buy the gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer,” said state Rep. John Williamowski (R., Lima), committee chairman.
Ohio is one of six states that do not allow citizens to carry concealed handguns. The bill picked up one Democratic vote on the Republican-controlled committee.
The measure requires those seeking permits to carry concealed handguns on their persons or in their cars to undergo criminal, mental health, and domestic violence background checks, and take at least four hours of sidearms training.
Democrats criticized the proposal for its patchwork of places where guns could and could not be taken. Home and business owners may declare their property to be gun-free zones, but the same right would not apply to public property.
For example, a government-run day-care center could not prohibit guns, but a privately operated center next door could. Guns would be prohibited in courthouses, police stations, colleges, and prisons, but not in city halls, public hospitals, or the Ohio Statehouse.
The committee tabled proposed amendments that would have placed mental hospitals, day-care centers, public sports facilities, bus terminals, train stations, and government buildings off-limits to guns.
“Why are we protecting our college students but not our children in day care?” asked Toby Hoover of the Toledo-based Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. “They were all good questions, but they tabled every one of them, because their intent seems to be to have no restrictions on carrying anywhere by anyone in Ohio.”
State Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) argued against extending the prohibition against guns to public child-care centers.
“You simply create another victim zone by declaring off-limits a facility in which responsible owners may want to carry weapons to protect their charges against criminals in the neighborhood, because police won't be able to respond,” he said.
The bill, supported by the National Rifle Association, has been offered as a compromise to handgun opponents and adamant gun-rights activists.
The compromise, however, has not brought on board the official law enforcement support Governor Taft has insisted is necessary for his signature. The only group to support the bill are the county sheriffs, who would conduct the background checks and issue permits.
If passed by the House, the bill would go to the Senate where another round of hearings would begin.