EDITOR'S NOTE: This version clarifies that three Democrats voted in support of the bill.
COLUMBUS -- Both sides conceded that "alcohol and guns don't mix," but the Ohio House Wednesday voted to allow carrying hidden handguns into bars and alcohol-serving restaurants, nightclubs, and outdoor arenas.
Republicans on this one were alone in pushing constitutional and self-defense arguments. They said the bill would bar permit holders from drinking at the establishments or being under the influence of alcohol when they got there. Democrats argued that the bill would add a dangerous element to what already could be a volatile situation.
House Bill 54 passed 56-40 and goes to the GOP-controlled Senate, which has passed a similar bill.
"In those bars mentioned, individuals are carrying weapons illegally right now," said Rep. Danny Bubp (R., West Union), a former Marine. "What this bill does is allow ... anyone who's got a concealed-carry permit to be able to carry in there and be able to protect themselves and their family.
Two Republicans joined 38 Democrats in opposing the bill. One of them was freshman Rep. Todd Mc- Kenny, a National Rifle Association member from the Akron suburbs who said he realized he was probably handing ammunition to an election rival next year with his vote.
He unsuccessfully pushed a proposed amendment that would have stripped the alcohol establishment provisions from the bill.
"I want you to consider the darkest, dankest, nastiest bar you know …," he said. "Now I want you to picture that place at 1 a.m. on Saturday night when it is a packed-out crowd, and it is dark, and it's loud, and the music is thumping, the lights are flashing…," he said. "Take your focus off the concealed-carry [permit-holders]. … I believe they will not drink," he said. "But what we're doing is putting them into an inherently dangerous environment."
The vote was a foregone conclusion as indicated by last December's House vote to force the bill out of a Democratic-controlled committee onto the chamber floor.
But after that, the Democratic leadership at the time brought the two-year legislative session to a close to prevent an up or down vote.
Republicans now control the chamber, and it was only a matter of time before the measure would pass.
The bill would allow someone who has a concealed-carry permit to take his gun with him into a bar, restaurant, or other business with a liquor license as long as the gun owner isn't drinking or under the influence.
Mr. Bubp noted that about 40 other concealed-carry states allow permit-holders to carry weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol. More than 200,000 Ohioans have permits for concealed firearms.
Private business owners still have the right under the concealed-carry law to post signs declaring their properties off limits to guns.
The bill would repeal current requirements that a legally carried, loaded handgun must be secured in a holster on the permit-holder, glove compartment, or some other closed container kept in plain sight while it is transported in a motor vehicle.
All but three Democrats opposed the bill, with Rep. Debbie Phillips (D., Athens), Rep. Sean O'Brien (D., Brookfield), and Rep. Lou Gentile (D., Steubenville) voting for it.
The sole other Republican "no" vote belonged to freshman Rep. Mike Duffey (R., Worthington).
The bill is opposed by the Ohio Restaurant Association and some law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Chiefs of Police Association, and Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
A second, less controversial bill also passed the chamber to align Ohio law with less restrictive federal law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
The move would ease restrictions on Ohioans with minor criminal convictions to legally petition for the right to receive a gun permit.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.