Saturday, July 29, 2000

Court revives weapon law

Ruling authorizes concealed-carry arrests

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's illegal again to carry a concealed weapon in Hamilton County.

        An appeals court ruled Friday that sheriff's deputies and Cincinnati police can resume arresting people for violating Ohio's concealed weapons law.

        The ruling reverses a decision last week from Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman, who threw out the law after concluding it was unfair to law-abiding citizens.

        After hearing arguments Friday, the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals decided Judge Ruehlman did not have the legal authority to make such a ruling.

        “It's the right decision,” said Prosecutor Mike Allen, who had asked the appeals court to intervene. “The deputies and police can now enforce state law, which is what they are supposed to do.”

        The court's decision Friday is the latest twist in a case that has stirred controversy and confusion for the past 10 days.

        The case began when four Greater Cincinnatians — a hairdresser, a private investigator, a personal trainer and a deliveryman — sued the county to stop enforcement of the gun law.

        They argued the law is unfair because it does not allow law-abiding citizens to get permits or licenses to carry concealed weapons.

        Instead, getting arrested and going to court is the only way to find out if they have a legal right to carry a gun.

        “Why should I face this risk of arrest?” said Chuck Klein, the private investigator. “I'm really surprised by this (appeals court) decision.”

        Mr. Allen said there may be problems with the law, but the courthouse is not the place to solve them.

        He said changes in the law should be made by state legislators.

        “It should not be a decision based on a judge's personal opinion,” Mr. Allen said.

        In court Friday, Assistant Prosecutor John Arnold argued that Ohio's constitution does not guarantee the right to carry a concealed weapon.

        He said Judge Ruehlman went too far when he tossed out a law that has been on the books in some form for at least 80 years.

        Mr. Arnold also claimed the judge's decision created confusion because it applied only to Cincinnati police and the deputies of Sheriff Simon Leis.

        Those two agencies were the only ones named in the lawsuit, so they were the only ones directly affected by the ruling.

        Mr. Arnold said a drive up Interstate 75 illustrates the problem.

        “You can enforce it in Norwood and Silverton, but not in Cincinnati,” he said. “It literally depends on what side of the street you are on.”

        City attorneys said police are at risk if they cannot enforce the law. “The public interest and the public safety concerns are such that this court must act,” said Richard Ganulin, an assistant city solicitor.

        Judge Ruehlman's lawyer, Thomas Schuck, said the safety concerns are overblown because convicted felons still are not permitted to carry guns.

        Without Judge Ruehlman's or der, Mr. Schuck said, the four people who filed the lawsuit will face arrest for carrying guns they need for protection.

        “Nobody is asking for relief from people who are criminally carrying guns,” Mr. Schuck said. “This is to address the concerns of law-abiding citizens.”

        Although the appeals court overturned Judge Ruehlman's decision, it did not take the case away from him. The court's decision only affects the temporary restraining order Judge Ruehlman granted last week.

        The lawsuit still is pending, and another hearing will be held Aug. 11.

        At that hearing, the judge will hear more evidence and could again declare the law unconstitutional. If he does, the city and county could again ask the appeals court to step in.


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