Thursday, June 19, 2003

Senate OKs concealed-carry bill

By Leo Shane III
Gannett Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - A bill that would permit Ohioans to carry concealed handguns passed the Senate Wednesday despite lukewarm support from its backers.

Officials from the National Rifle Association - who until Tuesday were the bill's leading proponents - stopped short of opposing the measure but hinted that revisions must be made to win back their support.

The bill passed 22-10, with four Republicans voting against the measure. Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, was one of six Democrats to oppose the bill. Cincinnati Republican Sens. Louis Blessing and Robert Schuler voted for the measure, as did Sen. Scott Nein, R-Middletown.

The bill's original sponsor, Rep. Jim Aslanides, R-Coshocton, predicted a joint House/Senate conference committee will be needed to correct what he sees as serious flaws regarding who can carry a gun and where they can carry it.

Senate members who voted for the bill admitted they share those concerns, but said they were pleased to see the process moving ahead.

"It upsets me that we went through this whole process, worked through all these issues and then turned around at the last-minute and put more restrictions on gun permits," said Sen. Larry Mumper, R-Marion. "But I'll reluctantly support this. We have to get something on the books."

Without true NRA support, Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, called the measure "a bill in search of a constituency."

"No significant organization is calling for its passage," he said.

The bill, similar to one that died last session, requires county sheriffs to issue concealed handgun permits to anyone age 21 or over who passes a criminal background check and completes a 12-hour training course.

Gov. Bob Taft has threatened to veto any concealed weapons measure that was opposed by law enforcement. But the state Highway Patrol and Ohio Fraternal Order of Police dropped their opposition for the first time Tuesday after Senate members made major revisions to the measure.

The governor will sign the final product if law enforcement still supports the bill that emerges from the conference committee with the House, said Orest Holubec, Taft's spokesman.

While recent changes got Taft on board, they upset NRA officials. The group said it may oppose the new measure -- prompting Senate leaders to delay a vote on the bill for a day.

John Hohenwarter, lobbyist for the NRA, said despite his group's concerns, the priority was to keep the bill moving through the legislature.

"I think we're on the right path," he said. "This is just one step in the process."

The Senate plan restricts where a concealed handgun may be carried - daycares and public buildings were added to the House's list of banned areas - and also mandates that permit holders leave the weapon in plain sight while driving, or locked away if children under age 18 are in the vehicle.

Aslanides said he is concerned those restrictions will put permit holders in danger while driving, and that exemptions were not made for individuals who believe their lives may be threatened while in a car.

Toby Hoover, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, expects Ohio lawmakers will chip away at the restrictions so gun permits are easier to obtain and guns are allowed in more places.

Gannett reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story.

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