The gun banners' forgotten push for open carry in Ohio

By Chad D. Baus

In a recent editorial entitled "Gun Lobby Working Overtime to Normalize Abnormal Behavior," the Joyce Foundation's anti-gun blog "GunGuys" asked if readers would be willing to "sip hot chocolate with your toddler at Starbucks while a fellow patron openly displays a gun at the table next to you?"

But before they chide gun rights activists for advocating the practice of open carry, they might want to consider some of the comments made by their fellow gun ban extremists in Ohio during the battle to establish a concealed carry law in the Buckeye state.

Before Ohio's concealed handgun licensure law was established in 2004, citizens had suffered under a ban on the carrying of concealed firearms for more than a century.

Despite the enumeration of a right to bear arms for self-defense in the state constitution, Ohioans were told that the archaic ban was not unconstitutional, because the practice of open carry was still legal.

The trouble for the GunGuys is that, back then, it wasn't the gun rights advocates who were arguing that openly carried firearms were the answer to the increasingly loud demands for the restoration of a right to bear arms for self-defense.

Consider this, from the Columbus Dispatch, who had been editorializing against efforts to pass right-to-carry reform in Ohio for years:

  • "Ohioans already have the right to carry guns and other weapons openly but not concealed. Anyone who believes he is in danger can holster a pistol on his waist or tote a shotgun around wherever he goes." - June 22, 2001

And then there was this, from Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence founder Toby Hoover:

  • "If [you] really believe that [you] will be safer and []you have] a good reason to carry a gun then [you] ought to carry openly." - October 16, 2003.

Ohio's lone voice for the so-called "Million" Mom March, Lori O'Neill, also advocated for open carry:

  • "Supporters of a concealed-carry law claim that their rights to self-protection are compromised by the ban on carrying a hidden gun. But what could be more of a deterrent to violent crime than the sight of a person carrying a gun openly? In case of attack by a violent criminal, an openly carried gun is far more accessible than one that is stuffed in a pocket or purse." - October 22, 2003

No, in the waning days of Ohio's century-old ban on concealed carry, it was not pro-gun advocates who were, as the GunGuys anti-gun blog puts it, "attempting to normalize abnormal behavior".

Rather, Ohio concealed carry advocates rightfully pointed out the many shortcomings of open carry as a self-defense option in Ohio, including the fact that that state laws regarding the improper transportation of fireams prohibits open carry of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle (this practice is only possible today if one has a concealed handgun license).

Additionally, supporters of concealed carry legislation at the time observed that carrying openly presents more safety concerns, since most people are not trained in the retention techniques necessary if someone tries to gain control of their firearm. Also, since there are some law enforcement officers who do not know open carry is legal, concealed carry advocates have noted a person who openly carries is exposed to risk of harassment, arrest, and costly legal expenses. And at least one Ohio police chief went on record in 2004 saying he planned to arrest all persons who attempt to open carry and "we'll let the judges figure it out."

Ohio open carry, which O'Neill, Hoover and their friends at the Dispatch once expressed such adoration for, requires no training requirements, background checks, or restrictive "defenseless victim" zones. If you are legally allowed to be in possession of a firearm (i.e. not a felon), state law makes no other requirements for you to carry a firearm openly.

Personally, I have no problem with current law. Citizens of Vermont and Alaska have proven they can be trusted to carry a firearm for self-defense without first obtaining permission from the state, and citizens of states like Indiana and Pennsylvania have proven that mandatory training is not necessary in order to ensure those who carry do so in a safe and responsible manner.

But it was always completely disingenuous for these who opposed a concealed carry permit or licensure system to claim open carry was a legitimate option for those who wished to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms for self-defense, just as it is now for GunGuys to criticize an activity its fellow anti-gun comrades in Ohio once advocated.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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