Drunk and Armed: On Duty with the Ohio State Highway Patrol

Editor's Note Nov. 2, 2006: At the time this story was posted, the tests commonly relied upon by the OSHP showed Trooper Joshua Risner to be intoxicated and no news outlets were questioning that "fact". At the request of the OSHP, additional tests not available to the general public were performed on Risner's body, bringing into question the validity of the standard tests. We are continuing to investigate this story and will post updates when warranted.

This political action committee's concern is not and has never been with the integrity of rank and file officers, but rather with the OSHP bureaucracy who continue to lobby against any gun rights legislation benefiting citizens while simultaneously seeking to remove a provisions in the House-passed version of H.B. 347 that applies the same felony to law enforcement officers as that faced by citizens who drive drunk while armed. We would encourage those Troopers who have expressed that they do support concealed carry to get their political leadership to quit making absurd objections to common sense reforms.

By Gerard Valentino

Ohio’s concealed carry law was stonewalled for years by the opposition of the Ohio State Highway Patrol bureaucrats, who refused to endorse any bill that allowed law-abiding citizens to carry concealed loaded guns in a vehicle. Finally, after years of debate, public opinion overwhelmed the Highway Patrol’s opposition, and Ohio became the 46th state to pass a concealed carry law.

The State Highway Patrol administration was successful, however, in using its lobbying power to poison the legislation with the now infamous “open car carry” provision that requires license holders to keep their gun holstered in plain site while in a vehicle. No other state has such a ludicrous provision in their concealed carry law, and many even allow guns to be carried in cars without a license.

Although the Highway Patrol could not point to one instance where a legally carried gun was used against law-enforcement, they still insisted that guns in cars need to be carried in plain sight in the name of officer safety (a silly demand considering a gun that is not concealed is quicker into action).

Although the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s administration claims carrying a gun in plain sight means the owner is less likely to kill someone, it apparently did not stop Trooper Joshua Risner, who while carrying his gun in plain sight, allegedly got drunk on duty, then drove his patrol cruiser and killed three people when he lost control - because in Ohio it is not currently illegal for a Trooper to drive drunk on official duty, even while carrying a gun.

Click on 'Read More' for the entire commentary.

After Trooper Risner's collision, the Ohio State Highway Patrol Troopers Union went into full spin control by blaming a lack of an installed fire suppression unit on the cruiser for the deaths, seemingly ignoring that if the driver wasn’t drunk three people would still be alive.

Shifting blame isn’t anything new to Ohio State Highway Patrol’s bureaucrats or Trooper’s Association cronies that both use the same logic when it comes to crime. They always blame the gun instead of the person pulling the trigger, or the drug trade, or some other evil happening in society. Vilifying an inanimate object, like a car, instead of the person making the bad decision by drinking, or committing a crime, for reeking devastation on the life of crime victims.

There is no doubt that Trooper Risner’s alleged choice to drink and drive on duty led to the tragic death of three people. But, the unanswered question is what if instead of racing to a crime scene he was pulling over a defenseless Ohio citizen for a traffic violation, or for that matter, how many times had he done so while drunk on duty in the past?

This tragedy brings the lobbying power of law enforcement agencies into question because even now the Ohio State Highway Patrol is lobbying to block legislation (House-passed HB347) which would make it illegal for a Trooper to drive and carry a gun after drinking. The OSHP has specifically asked that the provision that made it illegal for them to drive drunk, with a gun, be removed from HB347 before they would drop their opposition.

Once law enforcement administrators are put in a position to lobby for specific legislation it makes them the equal of run-of-the-mill special interest groups. It also means they are shaping public policy, which is a task for elected officials.

These are but a few in the long list of reasons that the head of every law enforcement agency statewide should be elected. Otherwise they will continue to be unaccountable to the people they are sworn to protect.

Such a lack of accountability is exactly the case with the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s politically motivated decision to remove making it a crime for law enforcement officers to carry a gun while under the influence. It is also why they flex their political muscle and force law-abiding citizens to jump through ridiculous hoops in order to legally carry a firearm.

Just like they are using their political spin machine to save face in the case of Trooper Risner’s alleged misconduct - instead of admitting that their own policies may have caused a tragedy that took the lives of two innocent people.

You can only imagine what the OSHP’s reaction would be if it was a concealed handgun license holder that killed three people, or a law-abiding citizen speeding to the aid of a family member that killed three people. We do know that since the inception of legal concealed-carry in Ohio, more innocent people's lives have been taken by Ohio State Highway Patrol Officers than concealed handgun license holders.

Which means everyone should question whose lobbying is more viable - a group willing to cover up crimes committed by their membership like the OSHP, or a group, like the pro-gun movement, that advocates incarceration when their member commits a crime.

The thoughts and prayers of the entire pro-gun community go out to the family of Sgt. Dale Holcomb and Lori Smith, the two victims of Trooper Risner’s tragic lack of judgment.

Gerard Valentino is the Buckeye Firearms Association Central Ohio Chair.

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