Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Concealed carry law argued

High court to hear criticisms from many

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - A lawsuit challenging Ohio's ban on concealed weapons is drawing national scrutiny from many sides of the gun rights debate.

The Ohio Supreme Court - which will hear oral arguments in the Hamilton County case this morning - has received friend-of-the-court briefs from no fewer than 30 groups and individuals. Among them: the National Rifle Association, the Washington-based Violence Prevention Center, Ohio cities and counties, even an interest group for private detectives.

All see the case as a key turning point in the political tussle over guns, not only in Ohio but for the entire country.

"It's a very important case," said Matt Nosanchuk, litigation director for the Violence Prevention Center, which favors tougher gun restrictions. "It strains credibility to think that the Ohio Constitution protects the right of a person to carry a concealed weapon."

Two lower courts already have ruled that state laws that ban the carrying of concealed weapons without "legitimate reasons" are unconstitutional.

Four Hamilton County residents who say they need concealed weapons for self-defense argue they would have to get arrested and charged with a felony to prove their reasons for carrying firearms are legitimate.

In Ohio, even private investigators have been arrested for carrying concealed weapons, according to a legal brief filed by the Ohio Association of Security and Investigation Services.

"At the time they are being arrested they are telling the police officers, yes, they have a legitimate reason," said Michael R. Moran, the group's attorney. "I mean, how does a private investigator not carry a concealed firearm? If you're carrying a six-shooter on your hip, it's going to appear pretty obvious (who you are)."

Attorneys representing the state, Hamilton County and Cincinnati will argue that the high court has already upheld the state ban on concealed weapons - back in 1920.

In that case, the court ruled the ban "does not operate as a prohibition against carrying weapons, but as a regulation of the manner of carrying them. The gist of the offense is concealment."

The high court's ruling also could have a dramatic effect on a bill that would allow Ohioans to carry concealed weapons with a permit. The Republican-dominated General Assembly has tried to pass such a bill for years, only to see each attempt fail under the threatened veto of Gov. Bob Taft.

A Supreme Court ruling declaring the concealed weapons ban unconstitutional would eliminate the need for the bill - but wouldn't stop legislative efforts, said state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout, who lent his name to one of the friend-of-the-court briefs.

Instead of winning support from gun rights lobbies, Brinkman predicted that gun control lobbies would fight to pass it - in hopes of putting some restrictions on carrying concealed firearms.

"Certainly there would be a rush for this legislation," he said. "There would be a rush to get a bill out to restrict this."

E-mail shunt@enquirer.com

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