Columbus Dispatch Op-Ed:[Senate's] Concealed-carry legislation too full of holes

The Columbus Dispatch has printed a Lee Leonard op-ed piece which points out still more reasons why it was better that the Senate's amended HB274 died without a House vote.

While we don't agree with all of Mr. Leonard's assessments, this piece does highlight the contrast between the strong leadership from Speaker Householder in the House vs. that from Finan/ Jacobson in the Senate. He also focuses the blame on urban lawmakers, an observation supported in the Senate floor vote - several urban Republicans voted against the bill, while several rural Democrats voted for it.

Leonard's summary: "A well-thought-out bill is better than a hasty rewrite done to satisfy a few."

Click here to read the entire Columbus Dispatch op-ed (subscription site - paid access only). An archived version of the piece follows.

Monday, December 16, 2002
Lee Leonard

The furious eleventh-hour attempt to enact a concealed-weapons law in Ohio provided a compelling lesson in how the legislature works and how difficult it is to pass complex and controversial bills.

Although neighboring states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana, allow individuals to carry concealed handguns, Ohio has resisted, possibly because of the influence of lawmakers from major cities in almost every area of the state.

The issue flared early in 2001, perhaps because of a new House speaker -- Rep. Larry Householder of Perry County, who likes to hunt and go trap shooting -- and a conservative majority.

But once the House adopted its bill in March 2002, the Senate sat on the proposal, awaiting an Ohio Supreme Court ruling on a Hamilton County case that could determine whether it is even constitutional for the state to regulate concealed weapons.

After the election, Senate President Richard H. Finan, a suburban Cincinnati Republican who does not seem the type to cater to gun owners, told Sen. Jeff Jacobson to work with the interested parties and try to get a bill that could be supported by law-enforcement agencies and Gov. Bob Taft.

It was already too late, but Jacobson, a bright and clever Republican from suburban Dayton, didn't care. He used his superior negotiating skills to fashion a bill that not only got the Fraternal Order of Police to drop its opposition but also came within an inch of meeting Taft's requirements for a bill that he could support -- no mean feat.

It was too late, because in satisfying the FOP and Taft, Jacobson changed the bill so much that the House never would have agreed to it without a lot of re-education and arm-twisting. That process could have taken several weeks, and the session was nearly over.

With many bills, you have proponents on one side and opponents on the other, facing off like military troops lined up for battle.

Any proposal with a chance of enactment on concealed-carry draws support from the middle. The strongest supporters of the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, are on one wing; they want the right to carry with no regulation. On the opposite wing are those who want permits restricted to law-enforcement officers, corrections officers and individuals whose jobs make carrying a weapon necessary. Members of this wing are known as gun-control advocates.

The job of Jacobson and Rep. James Aslanides, R-Coshocton, the bill's sponsor, was to make the bill acceptable to Taft and the law-enforcement community without sacrificing support from the group in the middle. The original bill got 66 votes in the House; it would take 50 to approve the Senate version and 60 to override a gubernatorial veto, if necessary.

Here is an example of the perils faced by Jacobson as he worked to eliminate objections: The bill gave private-property owners the right to ban handguns. But how could you do it without placing a burden on gun-carriers?

How would they know, for example, whether to lock their guns in the trunks of their cars when going to a restaurant or shopping mall?

The issue was doubly sensitive, of course, because most defenders of the Second Amendment are defenders of private-property rights: A business should have every right to ban handguns if the owner pleases.

Jacobson crafted language requiring that notice be posted in the parking lot and on each store entrance if handguns were to be banned. But there was nitpicking over the consequences of disobeying the order of the property owner. If the holder of a gun permit failed to heed a store owner's request to leave, the penalty could have been six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, but that would not prevent the gun owner from keeping the permit.

Sen. Eric D. Fingerhut, D-Cleveland, an outspoken opponent of concealed-carry and Jacobson's intellectual equal, said handgun carriers should be required to also carry liability insurance, like motorists. But Jacobson said driving is a privilege and carrying a gun is a constitutional right.

Whenever amendment after amendment is thrown in to satisfy individuals or groups, bills become a minefield for loopholes and unintended consequences.

Fingerhut exposed enough holes in the bill to drive large trucks through, so it's probably best that lawmakers regroup and start again in January. A well-thought-out bill is better than a hasty rewrite done to satisfy a few.


Lee Leonard covers the Statehouse for The Dispatch.

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