Sunday, February 25, 2001

The concealed-carry debate

Should Ohioans get a permit to pack?

        Ohio is headed for a showdown. State lawmakers intend to push a bill that would allow residents to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons. That could put Gov. Bob Taft in a pinch. He supported such a measure when he campaigned for governor, then backed away from it after being elected, citing opposition by police chiefs.

        But most states are adopting concealed-carry laws. To the north, Michigan has changed its permit law from “may issue” to “shall issue.” Across the Ohio River, Kentucky has had a concealed-carry law since 1996.

        Recently, we invited members of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence to debate members of the Kentucky Coalition to Carry Concealed.

Concealed carry laws, state by state.
        Representing the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence (Coalition) were Director Toby Hoover of Toledo; John E. Shanks, a former San Antonio police officer and associate director of law enforcement relations for Handgun Control Inc. of Washington; and Jennifer Hamilton, Ohio coordinator for the Million Mom March of Dayton.

        Representing the Kentucky Coalition to Carry Concealed (KC3) were Steve Clark, a Frankfort firefighter and paramedic; and Charles Riggs, an intensive care nurse, military veteran and weapons training expert.

        Following are excerpts of their meeting with the Enquirer editorial board.

        Q. What has happened in other states that have CCW laws? Has crime in those states increased or declined?

        John Shanks, Coalition: We believe immediate access and availability enhances chances for firearms violence. A case in point is two ladies in a recent road-rage incident. One of them reached in her glove box and pulled out a gun and shot the other one. When you introduce firearms, a situation that would not normally result in deadly violence can be tragic. Crime is down at a lesser rate in states that have CCW laws.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: In concealed-carry states such as Florida, Kentucky and Texas, the experts always anticipate terror. They said the streets would run red with blood. That has never come to pass. In all three states now, someone from the opposition has come forward to say, “Boy, was I wrong.”

        We were told there would be road-rage contests over parking spaces. Instead, (CCW) permit holders have come to the aid of police officers. One was decorated in Texas. It has never been the hazard it was portrayed to be. It is citizen empowerment at its most basic.

        Steve Clark, KC3: I'm not saying people who carry concealed weapons are perfect citizens. But we are a very, very, very law abiding group. Crime among permit holders is dramatically lower than in the population at large. I know of no example of a permit holder acting in a rage.

        John Shanks, Coalition: In most states, there is no method of recording a CCW holder on an arrest report. This is not about banning guns. It's about keeping guns out of public situations where there are large numbers of people gathered. Suppose some guy on a Sunday afternoon is consuming alcohol at the ballpark and it's 102 degrees. Tempers flare and that leads to tragic violence if he has a gun.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: What they will never say is that there is a tremendous number of times when guns deter crime. Like the elderly woman about to be set upon by someone with a brick, and she pulls out a .25 cal. and says, “Come any closer and I will have to shoot.” There's no report, but a life is saved.

        To get a permit you need a clean record, you must attend training and you must pass a test.

        John Shanks, Coalition: They cite 2.5 million times a year when guns are used to stop a crime. But crime reports do not justify that number. Does concealed carry prevent crime? No.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: If we dismiss the 2.5 million number, even the Department of Justice says guns are used to stop crimes a minimum of 250,000 times a year.

        When do police arrive? After a crime. What scares perpetrators is the possibility of being shot by an armed citizen. I make you safer because I might have a weapon. What the crooks say in Florida is, “I'll find a tourist because tourists don't have a gun.

        Q. A local judge says Ohio's law is unconstitutional because a citizen must be arrested to find out if he qualifies to carry a concealed weapon. How do we fix it?

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: We have a law that is adequate, it is sufficient. There is no permit system in Ohio.

        John Shanks, Coalition: If I'm carrying and I fit one of four categories, the charge is dropped and you are not prosecuted. I think the law is adequate for Ohio.

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: Law enforcement, churches, moms and our health care system all say the law is adequate.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: The judge has made it very clear that the law is unconstitutional. The Ohio Constitution is clear: You have the right to be armed.

        Our court system is also clear that you are innocent until proved guilty, not guilty until you prove you should not be prosecuted.

        And there is no universal opposition among moms in Ohio or among police officers in Ohio. There are significant numbers of people who do want concealed carry in Ohio. The trend in all the states is to expand concealed carry.

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: Then let's put it to a vote.

        Steve Clark, KC3: Do we actually know what the people of Ohio want? In Kentucky, Gov. Paul Patton saw tens and tens of thousands of signatures in favor of concealed carry, and that convinced him what the people wanted.

        John Shanks, Coalition: If I'm a police chief and I know that Bobby has always been a bad guy but he has never crossed the line, I have the discretion to say, “No, Bobby, you're not going to carry a gun in my community.”

        Steve Clark, KC3: That's the problem with “may issue” laws compared to “shall issue.” Our sheriff doesn't believe anyone should carry. If the sheriff doesn't like you because your family voted for the other guy, too bad. It's too subjective. You see your elite, your rich, they can get permits, but the average Joe Blow like me can't.

        Q. What's the chance that Ohio will pass a CCW law this year?

        Charles Riggs, KC3: It has a really excellent chance. Only the chicanery and treachery of the governor has kept Ohio from having it now. He said he would sign it, then waffled and said he would not if the Fraternal Order of Police is opposed. But when police organizations poll their members, the rank and file say CCW poses no threat to their primary mission, which is to go home at the end of the day. It is the politicians and police chiefs at the upper echelons who oppose CCW because of their own personal agendas.

        John Shanks, Coalition: As a police officer who worked the streets, I can tell you police officers are very concerned about citizens carrying guns.

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: It sounds like you (Riggs) don't trust government, you don't trust the police and you want all schoolteachers to be armed.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: That's not what I said.

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: That's what I heard. If you put it before the people, they will say no, it won't make them feel any safer. Are we selling fear out there? If more guns were the answer, the U.S. would be the safest country in the world, and we're not.

        If by some slim chance the governor changes his mind, we would put it on the ballot and the people would say no.

        Steve Clark, KC3: Your arguments are almost letter for letter what we heard across the river. The horror stories of shootouts at Walmart have not happened. It's not the piece of paper (permit). It's the person. If they're a bad person and they want to carry, they will, with or without a permit.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: You can't show me a state where the people have said, “My God, we have to repeal this.” It's the other way around: “We were wrong, the fears have not materialized.”

        What you have from the people opposing CCW is they're saying, “We're smarter than you and better than you.” We're saying people can take control of their lives and not be a victim.

        Q. What about other countries that have gun control and less gun violence?

        Charles Riggs, KC3: They always say a higher incidence of gun violence. Russia's level of (overall) violence is much higher. As the level of prohibition of personal firearms goes up, the level of violence goes up. If people were made safe by gun laws, we would be safer now than ever before.

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: Some of the countries are more liberal in lots of areas and have the same things we have. The only thing they don't have is accessible guns.

        John Shanks, Coalition: Gun violence also includes suicides and accidental shootings.

        Steve Clark, KC3: We can all agree we are against violence. Unfortunately, this is a violent country. You can talk about the 8-year-old who accidentally shoots his brother, but that's not a concealed carry issue. It's an issue of parental responsibility.

        If you take guns out of the equation, you would still see America is a violent country.

        This may come as a surprise, but accidental deaths for guns is at the lowest since 1934.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: Gun accidents are down but ownership is up.

        Steve Clark, KC3: People who are going to commit violent acts will commit violent acts. It's not affected by CCW.

        Charles Riggs, KC3: Don't call me a gun nut and don't call me Bubba. We are the same people you rub elbows with every day of your lives. I don't ever want to attend my daughter's funeral because I failed to give her the right tools and training to save her life.

        We refuse to be victims.

        Jennifer Hamilton, Coalition: We're talking about your individual right to carry a weapon that is only designed to kill someone vs. my right to feel safe in my park or my church. Your concealed weapon also threatens my safety if your gun goes off it if it bumped or dropped or doesn't have a child safety lock.

        Toby Hoover, Coalition: We are looking to prevent accidents, homicides and suicides. When you increase access to something, you increase the things that can happen.

        John Shanks, Coalition: The biggest tragedy in all of this is that we live in a society where you feel you can't go to the grocery store without a gun.


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