Sunday, June 22, 2003

Concealed carry: Reconcile two bills

Ohio aims for gun law

Few things divide Americans into two camps as starkly as the issue of guns and their place in our society. "Some want no restrictions on guns," Ohio Sen. Leigh Herrington, D-Ravenna, told his colleagues Wednesday. "Some believe no one should be able to carry a weapon except law enforcement. They almost seem to be from different planets."

On Wednesday, the planets were in alignment, however briefly. With Gov. Bob Taft removing his long-standing veto threat and the Ohio Highway Patrol softening its stance into neutrality, the Senate voted 22-10 for a compromise bill to allow the concealed carry of weapons.

But that didn't end the debate. Loaded with restrictions and safeguards that could ease many gun foes' objections, the Senate bill was far less permissive than the measure the House passed earlier. So on Thursday, the House rejected the Senate changes by a resounding 83-5 vote, leaving a yet-to-be-named conference committee the task of closing gaps and fixing the law's final shape.

"The House is not being obstinate," Rep. Jim Aslanides, R-Coshocton, the bill's main sponsor, said Friday. "This is a very difficult bill, and the recipe's been cooking for 10 years. We need to make sure all interested parties understand all provisions of the bill." Aslanides said he's confident the differences will be ironed out, because "the willingness to get this done is very strong."

Final passage could resolve an issue lawmakers have debated for a decade, fix the state's current, unworkable law, and put Ohio more in line with the rest of the nation. Most important to gun-rights advocates, it is a "shall issue" rather than a "may issue" statute, meaning that sheriffs must give concealed-carry permits to all applicants who qualify. It ought to become law.

The impasse with Taft was broken Tuesday when a Senate committee made changes that addressed major concerns of law enforcement, especially on carrying weapons in automobiles (see below). But that solution went too far for gun-carry advocates - not only for the locked-in-car provision, but for the lengthened list of places in which guns will be prohibited. As Aslanides put it, bans in local public buildings should be left to the discretion of local governments, not mandated by the state. But compromise appears possible in both areas. The conferees should make sure it happens.

Concealed carry has not been a strictly partisan issue in Ohio. Though Republicans have been more likely to favor it, the original 1995 sponsor was a Democrat - former Sen. Joe Vukovich, D-Poland. If anything, it is more an urban vs. suburban/rural issue. Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, opposed the measure. Herrington, his Democratic colleague, supported it.

"This bill is going to become law," Herrington said Wednesday. "It's time." He may have been a bit premature on the first part. But he's right about the second.

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