Dayton media explore Ohio gun laws in wake of Walmart shooting & open carry incidents
On August 5, 2014, a 911 caller reported that a man was “walking around with a gun” in an Ohio Walmart, that he “just put some bullets inside” and was "waving the weapon around” and “pointing it at people.” Beavercreek officers responded, and 22 year-old John Crawford was shot to death. It was reported after the fact that Crawford was holding an unloaded MK-177 Crosman variable pump air rifle that he had picked up off of a store shelf, and was talking with his father on the phone. Additionally, it appears that the 911 caller's story is now changing. He now admits that "at no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody.”
While the totality of the circumstances surrounding the shooting are not yet known, this of course has not stopped the media from reporting on various aspects and allegations made about the case.
One of the more irresponsible pieces of "journalism" came in the form of a report entitled "How real do fake guns look to everyday people?" In the video, WHIO (Dayton) reporter Jessica Heffner can be seen walking down a busy street carrying different Crosman air rifle - the Fury II Blackout. There are a number of problems with the report, not the least of which is the use of the word "fake" in the title, and repeated references made by Heffner to it being "not real" or "fake" or a "toy."
There is nothing "fake" about an air rifle that can fire a projectile into a target at a very high rate of speed, and it's certainly not a "toy." Heffner notes that the gun doesn't have an orange tip on the barrel - but of course it shouldn't - because it's not a toy. Furthermore, as San Leandro, CA police officers learned recently, criminals are not above breaking the law and painting an orange tip on two very real AK-47s.
Instead of irresponsibly and incorrectly calling the gun a "fake," or saying that it's "not real" or calling it a "toy," the WHIO reporter should have been noting that while the gun isn't a "firearm," it most certainly is a gun, and that all gun safety rules should be followed when handling it. (Unfortunately, the reporter can also be seen treating the very "real" gun in an unsafe manner - holding her finger on the trigger and pointing the muzzle in an unsafe direction.)
The entire report can be seen here:
In separate coverage this week, the Dayton Daily News offers a quiz - a list of nine scenarios - and asks readers to decide whether what the gun owner did in each was "ok" or "not ok."
In accompanying news coverage, the Daily News writes that Ohio's open carry laws "can even confuse cops." (Note once again the erroneous reference to what Crawford was carrying as something other than a "real" rifle.)
If John Crawford had been holding a real, loaded rifle — as police officers were told before they shot and killed him in a Beavercreek Walmart last month — that act in itself would not have violated any Ohio laws or store policy.
What he did with the gun would have been what mattered.
Ohio is an “open carry” state, meaning anyone can openly carry a loaded firearm without any kind of license, as long as they aren’t personally prohibited by law from owning a gun. Walmart policy does not prohibit customers from carrying firearms.
Several local jurisdictions in recent years have increased training for officers in how to deal with an armed public as the Ohio General Assembly has loosened rules on where firearms can be toted.
The city of Riverside in July settled a civil lawsuit for $25,000 and adopted a new policy after a man named Roy Call was detained by police for wearing a holstered sidearm. In a video of the confrontation, the officer threatened to charge Call with inducing panic.
“A Riverside police officer may not stop an individual solely for the reason of the person’s open carry of a firearm,” the new policy states. “Officer statements about possible charges of inducing panic and/or disorderly conduct to a person exercising a lawful right to openly carry a firearm are inappropriate.”
Vandalia adopted a similar policy in 2012 after Call was questioned by police while loading his car with groceries at Kroger.
The 911 caller in the Walmart case said Crawford was pointing the air rifle at patrons. The weapon turned out to be a BB/pellet gun.
Regardless, pointing it at someone could be illegal. By itself, pointing the gun could be considered at least misdemeanor aggravated menacing. Other factors, such as threatening to fire it, could raise the charge to felonious assault.
Patrick Oliver, director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University and a former police chief of cities including Fairborn and Cleveland, said someone with a firearm can escalate a situation. Officers use a “use of force continuum” when interacting with a suspect.
“Typically police will go one above the level of resistance being offered by the individual involved,” he said. “What level above would you use for a weapon? It takes you right to the top level, doesn’t it?”
If a police officer sees someone with a gun, that in itself is not probable cause to detain someone, though an officer can simply talk to them. But if someone calls 911 with a complaint, that creates probable cause for an officer to engage someone and investigate, Oliver said.
“Open carry is more challenging to deal with, because people tend to be frightened by it, but you want to be sure your intervention is legal,” Oliver said. “It’s been an ongoing issue.”
And there is no formula for determining whether the person with a gun is a threat to anyone. It’s a judgment call the officer must make, sometimes in a split second.
The article goes on to note that Dayton police recently have had run-ins with two men openly displaying rifles. One ended peacefully, the other ended with a man shot to death.
In February 2013, officers responded to several 911 calls that a man with a gun was walking down Helena Street toward Island MetroPark. One caller said the man, Daniel Holt, was cocking his weapon as if preparing to fire it, and another caller said he was pointing the rifle at passing vehicles.
Cruiser camera video showed officers demanding Holt drop the weapon — an SKS assault rifle with an attached bayonet — but Holt instead pointed the rifle at police, who shot him to death.
Police later found the rifle wasn’t loaded. Holt had mental health issues and an apparent suicide note on him. Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said “officers responded appropriately to a lethal threat.”
Contrast that to February of this year, when police responded to a call of a man with an AK-47 assault rifle walking on North Gettysburg Avenue. He had the gun strapped across his back and did not point it at anyone or threaten anyone with it, police said.
Officers checked his background and let him go.
“It’s not illegal to possess and carry a firearm,” said Dayton Sgt. Mark Spiers. “As long as it’s not concealed and he’s not discharging it … If he did point it in a menacing manner that would make it a crime.”
The article concludes by noting that in the case of the Beavercreek Walmart shooting, Crawford’s family members, who saw surveillance video from the store that has not been made public, say he picked up the air rifle from a shelf and it was already out of its box. When officers arrived, they say Crawford was talking on the phone and leaning on the weapon like a cane, with its barrel pointed at the floor. They claim the video shows he has back to the officers and showed no reaction when police approached, as though he did not hear them in the moments before he was shot.
Firearm or air rifle, orange tip or not, furtive movements or not, it is clear from these examples that carrying a gun (or a replica toy) openly - especially in the case of a long gun - is very likely to draw the attention of passersby, who are likely to call law enforcement. The person who chooses to openly carry knows their intentions - passersby and responding law enforcement will not. Carry openly at your own risk.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.