Columbus Dispatch: Police group drops opposition to gun bill

Key Senate revisions in a concealed-weapons bill yesterday caused a major police group to drop its opposition and Gov. Bob Taft to list, for the first time, some restrictions the legislation must include if he is to support it.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 24,000 officers, dropped its opposition yesterday, saying it now is neutral. The National Rifle Association, representing 200,000 Ohioans, essentially declared victory.

John Hohenwarter, a Midwest regional lobbyist for the NRA, and Rep. James Aslanides, R-Coshocton, the House sponsor, predicted the Senate version would be approved by the House and signed by Taft.

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But House Speaker Larry Householder said the House might not go along with a Senate rewrite of House Bill 274, which the House passed March 21.

"I'm not sure what we'll do,'' he said late yesterday. "We could ask for a conference committee (to negotiate the differences). We may not want to do that.'' He added that he expects the House to adjourn for the year on Friday. Bills not passed by then would have to be reintroduced next session, which starts in January.

The revised proposal -- negotiated by Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Vandalia, with the NRA and FOP -- was released to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil Justice and placed on track for a vote at the end of the week.

The most recent version would strengthen the training requirements for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. It also would allow law-enforcement officers who stop motorists to instantly check a State Highway Patrol database to determine whether they are permit-holders.

Some gun-rights groups said too many concessions have been made to law enforcement and bureaucracy.

The bill still would permit sheriffs to issue permits to Ohioans 21 or older who have no felony record or history of mental problems and who complete a certified course on handling and using guns.

The governor talked with officials from the FOP and other law-enforcement organizations "to see how they stand and what their concerns are,'' spokesman Joe Andrews said.

Taft has threatened to veto any such bill unless it is supported by a majority of law-enforcement groups.

The Buckeye State Sheriffs Association supports the original bill and the revised version, a spokesman said yesterday. The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and the State Highway Patrol remain opposed.

The FOP change in position received various interpretations.

"I think the members of the FOP at this point would not oppose House Bill 274,'' Mike Taylor of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio told the Senate committee.

Hohenwarter said, "I think the neutrality is a nod of support in this case.''

Senate President Richard H. Finan, R-Cincinnati, said he expects the FOP to ask the governor to sign the bill.

But Taylor said that neutral means just that.

"We have no intention of asking (Taft) to sign the bill. I don't think we want to influence him or attempt to influence him one way or the other.''

As he spoke with law-enforcement officials, Taft put forth this list of items he wants in the bill:

* A tougher penalty for carrying a concealed handgun without a permit.

* A provision on illegal transportation of a loaded weapon. The Highway Patrol's major complaint, said Patrol Lt. Gary Lewis, is that under the bill, an officer could not charge a motorist for having a loaded gun on the seat.

* Tougher requirements for mentally incompetent people to prove they are cured before they can obtain a permit.

* A prohibition against off-duty corrections officers carrying concealed weapons.

* Required requalification with the weapon when renewing the permit every six years.

* No concealed weapons in sports venues or government buildings.

* A requirement that trigger locks be offered for sale with every gun purchase and that an educational pamphlet on safe storage be distributed with each gun bought and permit issued.

The list might change, Andrews said.

Jacobson drew grumbles from gun-rights advocates when he pointed out that sheriffs would take fingerprints and Social Security numbers from permit applicants. The fingerprints would have to be destroyed within 20 days after action on the application.

Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said Jacobson didn't consult her group and that the bill has a number of issues, including whether permit-holders' names are public records and whether private business owners are responsible for people carrying firearms on their property.

"We're building a case here for defense of oneself against criminals,'' Hoover said. "The reality is, most people who kill each other know each other. They've done an awful lot of work to pass something that the majority of Ohioans do not want.''

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