Buckeye Firearms Assoc. exam of Hamilton Co. court records reveals problems with criminal justice system

On June 9, the Cincinnati Enquirer and USA Today Network published the results of an investigation they had done in an attempt to get some more concrete predictions about what life in Ohio with permitless carry would look like.

To do so, they took a look at court data - specifically people who had been charged with gun possession violations in Hamilton and Delaware Counties - in order to determine how many people might avoid a court case and who will be most affected by that.

What they found was that the law will particularly help black Ohioans, who had disproportionately faced concealed carry weapons charges.

Who might avoid a court case, they asked?

The answer is hundreds in Hamilton County alone, many of whom are young Black men. The smaller suburban Delaware County has likely dozens of cases a year, and about 60% of the cases involve Black people while Black residents make up only 11% of the county's population.

Looking at cases that only involve offenses that will be legal under the new law, it is clear that hundreds of people will be spared the penalties, expense and inconvenience of a criminal charge. People charged with any other offense in the same case were not included in the tally.

After traffic stops or other contacts with police, an average of about nine people a week are charged within Hamilton County. That's about 450 people a year who were arrested or cited who likely won't be under the new law.

This is, of course, wonderful news. But it isn't the whole story.

As it happens, at the exact same time as this article was published, both myself and Buckeye Firearms Association volunteer Joe Eaton had begun an examination of the exact same data from Hamilton County. We too immediately noticed how disproportionate the charges were in terms of race. But we noticed a whole lot more.

First, to understand the ways in which these laws were disproportionately charged against black citizens, consider this:

86% of the people who were charged with some version of unlawful concealed carry were listed as black, although only 27% of the county's population is black. There seems to be a problem where the system pretty much ONLY labels defendants as white or black, given that the only other race listed as having been charged is Asian, and that only on two occasions. But even if we consider the entire "non-white" population of Hamilton County, census records say that number is 36% - again, vs. 86% of those who were being charged.

When considering this data, Buckeye Firearms Association Executive Director Dean Rieck observed to the Cincinnati Enquirer that the laws criminalizing carrying without a license were a "status crime" similar to driving without a license or possessing marijuana.

"It's not that they are doing something dangerous or that puts people in harm's way," he said, adding that the previous laws were simply unjust.

"I don't want people charged for silly crimes, what I call status crimes," he said. "The qualifications of who can carry aren't changing."

A move toward a more just system for all is going to be a massive win for Ohio permitless carry law. But our analysis of the data also exposed another problem with our criminal justice system - one that should be remembered each and every time some anti-Second Amendment politician claims that a new gun control law is needed to fight crime.

Here is what we learned:

In 2021, 41% of the people who were charged with an unlawful concealed carry violation were under a disability. This means that at the time they were caught with a firearm, they were already precluded from legally being in possession of the firearm. (It's also worth nothing here that Ohio's new Constitutional Carry law does not change this at all. Persons who are under a disability are still prohibited from possessing or carrying now as well.)

According to the Ohio Revised Code, a Weapon Under Disability charge is defined as knowingly acquiring, having, carrying, or using a firearm if any of the following apply:

  • The person is a fugitive from justice.
  • The person is under indictment or has been convicted of a felony offense of violence.
  • The person is under indictment or has been convicted of drug possession or abuse.
  • The person is drug dependent, in danger of drug dependence, or a chronic alcoholic.
  • The person is under adjudication of mental incompetence.

Having a weapon while under disability is a 3rd degree felony gun crime under Ohio law.

So again, 41% of the people charged with unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon in Hamilton County in 2021 were already prevented by a gun control law from having a gun in the first place. What more needs to be said about the fact that gun control laws don't stop criminals?

But it gets worse. You see, according to our analysis, nearly a quarter (22%) of the people who were arrested for concealed carry while under a weapons disability had their disability charge dismissed.

And therein lies the problem with politicians who assert that new gun control laws are needed to prosecute criminals. In far too many cases, they don't even fully utilize the gun control laws that they already have.

These dismissals also raise the question - if these cases were dismissed because they were under a disability, but were not actually a violent threat (i.e they'd committed a non-violent felony, marijuana etc.) then why were they stripped of their Constitutional rights in the first place?

These kinds of questions about and lack of enforcement of existing gun laws show exactly why passing still more laws or increasing penalties is not going to have the effect on crime that they claim. This problem has been on full display in Ohio cities for many years.

In the past two decades, leaders in the cities of Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo have all claimed they just had to have new gun control laws in place in order to combat crime in their cities. Yet investigations showed that when the laws were put in place, they were rarely if ever enforced (see here and here and here).

There should be no more talk of new laws which will only punish the law-abiding. Instead, those who are truly seeking to make a difference should focus their efforts on ensuring that government entities fairly, consistently, and regularly use the crime-fighting tools they already have.

Chad D. Baus served as Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary from 2013-2019, and continues to serve on the Board of Directors. He is co-founder of BFA-PAC, and served as its Vice Chairman for 15 years. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website, and is also an NRA-certified firearms instructor.

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