Headline: "Guns in bars | One year later: ‘Carry’ fear silenced"; Gun banners' internal efforts to defeat bill exposed

by Chad D. Baus

We told them so.

One year ago a Buckeye Firearms Association-backed modification to Ohio's concealed carry law took effect, making it legal for concealed carry licensees to enter establishments that serve alcohol so long as they did not drink, and this week, The Columbus Dispatch has published an article we could have written one year ago:

A year after the sound and fury over a state law allowing concealed guns in bars and restaurants, there has been silence.

Almost no incidents have been reported involving concealed-carry permit holders, and there has been no spike in violence as predicted by some opponents concerned about the volatile mix of alcohol and guns.

The impact is difficult to assess, however, because law-enforcement and state agencies do not formally track violations involving guns in bars.

But those on both sides of the issue agree all is calm, so far.

"There was a lot of hubbub about it on both sides, ... then almost immediately it just got quiet," said Scott Heimlich, owner of Barcelona Restaurant in Columbus and president of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association. "In restaurants, we have not had any incidents."

Despite his admission, Heimlich says he still has his signs posted asking law-abiding customers to stay away.

"As a society, we don't have a big issue with needing to protect yourself every waking minute," Heimlich is quoted as saying. "We spent a lot of time and money when we could have been doing something more productive."

When the law first took effect, Heimlich was among those claiming there would be problems.

"Alcohol and guns do not mix in any type of setting," Heimlich told the Dispatch last year. "By inviting them into a restaurant, you're opening yourself up to issues."

Jim Irvine, chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association, says the lack of incidents in the past 12 months is vindication to him that "they're wrong, and we're right, again."

"We're talking about saving people's lives and being able to protect our families," he said. "There's been a bunch of shootings in bars, which is not uncommon. But it's not concealed-carry licensed owners."

Irvine said the number of concealed-carry permit holders in Ohio continues to go up. He attributes that in part to the passage of the guns-in-bars law. "I would guess some people got a license and began carrying regularly because they can carry in a restaurant now."

...Sgt. Rich Weiner, a spokesman for Columbus police, said he is not aware of any incidents in the city involving concealed-carry permit holders in bars and restaurants in the past year.

"We haven't seen anything out of the ordinary, and that's good," Weiner said.

For her part, Toby Hoover, who fronts what often appears to be a one-woman show known as the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, told the Dispatch that the new law has had little impact.

"I don't think it tells us a whole lot," she said. "Our whole objection still remains that we're putting more guns out there in public, and most of the public are not comfortable with that decision-making. "Easy access to a weapon is obviously going to make it more likely for incidents to happen with a weapon.

"I'd rather not be sitting in a restaurant next to someone who's carrying."

If she doesn't think this tells us a whole lot, Hoover must be getting very used to being proven wrong. Last year, she told The Cleveland Plain Dealer that "weakening such laws by, among other things, allowing people to possess guns in locations that serve alcohol only makes the public less safe. Indeed, allowing the open or concealed carry of guns wherever makes the public less safe."

Again, from the article:

Not all restaurant and bar owners have posted signs prohibiting guns. Dan Ponton, president and managing partner of more than two dozen Rooster's restaurants in Ohio and Kentucky, said he had the signs removed. "Whatever the law says, that's what we’re going to do," Ponton said. "We've never had any problem with that (guns) in any of our stores in 23 years. To me, it's been a non-issue."

Tom Foeller, who's been bartending for 25 years, the last 18 at O'Reilly's Pub, 2822 N. High St., said likewise he's seen no problems in the past year.

The article also reports on the fact that more Ohioans are getting the 12 hours of training and undergoing background checks required to get concealed handgun licenses.

The latest report from Attorney General Mike DeWine, for the second quarter of this year, showed Franklin County continues to lead the state in the number of new concealed-carry permits with 1,442. The state does not track the total number of permit holders, but firearms supporters say the statewide number is 301,000 and rising.

Linda Walker, a concealed-carry instructor certified by the National Rifle Association, said she has seen a big increase in the number of women taking firearms training. Most of her classes now have up to 50 percent women, she said.

"Over the years, we've seen a transformation in the thought process on gun ownership,' Walker said. "There is an awareness that women's self-defense is very personal."

Asked whether she brings her gun into restaurants, Walker replied, "Absolutely I do."

It is interesting to compare this article to some of the other claims made last year by anti-gun rights extremists and others opponents in the months leading up to the law taking effect:

  • "These people carrying may go with every intention of not drinking, but then once they are there they may think 'Who is going to know?' and start up. Then you have people drinking and carrying guns." - John Gilchrist, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police legal counsel, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • "When you let people that really haven't had the training and don't have the responsibility, necessarily, to do this, I think it puts us all at risk." "When you combine alcohol in this setting with people with loaded guns I think you're asking for problems." - Paul Helmke, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, FOX News.
  • "We are required to meet a much higher level of training and re-training for how to properly handle our weapons and we are trained to know in which situations to shoot and not to shoot," McDonald said. "If they want to require the same level of training for CCW holders as I have to meet as a law enforcement officer, then we will drop our opposition." - Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • "Alcohol and guns are typically not a good mix," [Ohio Restaurant Association] spokesman Jarrad Clabaugh, ABC News
  • "Even if someone's not drinking and they pull a weapon around people who are drinking, that's what I fear. If they drop it, if they are overtaken — there's no reason for it. There is no logic about it. Why would you allow a weapon in a bar? Or, if you are in a bar, why are you not drinking?" - Darren Spurlock, general manager of Easy's in the Village in Hamilton, Middletown Journal
  • "An open air arena is no place for a 9 mm." State Rep. Bill Patmon, Cleveland Democrat, Cleveland Plain Dealer
    (Just last week, Patmon introduced a bill that would effectively kill concealed carry in Ohio)
  • "I don't want 'em in here. You have enough problems in the bars with fighting. Now when someone starts mouthing off, someone's gonna pull out a gun and start shooting. I fear for my own life." - Laura Lopilato, a bartender at Casey Jones Tavern in Cleveland's West Park neighborhood, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • "Who are all these gun-toting, barhopping teetotalers? I've lived in Ohio all of my life. How did I miss these guys? More importantly, how will Ohio's bars, restaurants and open-air stadiums figure out who's carrying the secret weapons? And who's going to intervene if the gunslingers decide to violate the law and down a Dortmunder? Tip a Tequila? Sip a Seagrams?" - Connie Schultz, wife of Democrat U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • "Alcohol is a depressant and can be mood-altering. We've seen people get agitated, which can cause aggression. We see so many bar fights — adding a gun to it is going to make everything worse." Elizabeth Lessner, owner of Betty's Family of Restaurants, Columbus Dispatch
  • "In the process of the legislature doing this, they were bowing to powerful lobbies like the NRA, even though most people, even children, know that you shouldn't mix alcohol and guns. It just leads to violence." - Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgressOhio.

Emails obtained via a public records request reveal that Rothenberg's ProgressOhio, Hoover's OCAGV and Mayor Bloomberg's "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" (even though this had nothing to do with "illegal" guns) collaborated in an (ultimately failed) attempt to stop the bill.

They shared notes on hearing testimony, talking points, press conferences, petitions and push poll results. They coordinated on which legislators they thought were vulnerable to pressure, and budgeted $7500 to buy "patch through" calls to those legislators and to Governor Kasich.

When it was deemed inappropriate for MAIG to speak out, lest they destroy their "against illegal guns" facade, they collaborated to funnel the information through ProgressOhio's blog, or through Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

When the bill passed in the Senate, Coleman's spokesman Daniel Williamson asked MAIG's Ohio Coordinator, Lee Roberts, if they should do a statement, and included a draft statement.

Roberts: Looks fine, could maybe make some reference that people just this weekend in Columbus were shot in the parking lot of a bar.

Williamson: I think that would draw attention to the fact that people already take guns to bars, and that this law will have no real effect on that.

Roberts: Touche.

Another interesting revelation came in an email from Roberts to Brian Levinson, one of his contacts in New York Mayor Bloomberg's office, in which he discussed a Buckeye Firearms Association article discussing legislator's concern about opposition from the Ohio Restaurant Association.

Sounding more and more like it isn't a slam dunk in our State House. I talked with the Restaurant Owner's Association lobbyist and he was kind of mystified at their own power on this. They haven’t really done any formal lobbying outside of I believe 4 page letter they sent to members.

Roberts also said this to another Bloomberg staffer, Janey Rountree:

At some point we should talk about guns in bars, even though its not a coalition priority it looks more and more like they might be struggling to pass it. House just went on break for 2 weeks so we have tons of time to work with here, if it fails it would really help debunk the conventional wisdom that you can't beat BFA.

The response from New York?

I completely agree and think mostly like path forward is to help ProgressOhio take the lead here. I am totally under water right now in part because our main lawyer left and new one has yet to start. So, it would be a big help to me if you can put together some information and a draft strategic plan. I need even the basics: procedurally where is the bill, are we in a committee fight, floor fight, etc. after recess. Who are the players. Who has spoken out in opposition, including law enforcement and restaurant associations. Who has been organizing the people who are speaking out, if anyone. Press clips.

Then let's take a look at what potential paths we have to victory. I might be open to making this an Ohio-coalition issue (not national MAIG) if we can win. But Mark Glaze, copied here, will make the ultimate decision on that front.

Your plan should include recommendations for ads and calls, if appropriate, and budget. Then we can think about how to use Cliff.

In follow-up discussions on which legislators to target with their purchase of "patch through" calls, an email from Roberts raises questions about how in touch he is in the Statehouse:

Everything I'm hearing is telling me that its Kasich telling Batchelder not to bring this to a vote, and vulnerable R's who don't want to vote on it telling Batchelder not to bring it up.

Two hours and ten minutes later, ProgressOhio's Bret Thompson sent him a link to a news article entitled "House vote now expected on 'guns in bars' bill."

All this for a bill about which Coleman's spokeman told Media Trackers "That actually is not a situation that MAIG had a real interest in, because that was not about illegal guns, that was about guns."

Meanwhile, a bill that they internally referred to as the "guns for drug criminals" bill, (and which in actuality simply aligned Ohio law with federal statutes regarding the restoration of rights to Ohio firearms purchasers) got very little attention from the collaborators. When it passed in the House 78-18, Roberts emailed the vote count and added "Not totally unexpected..."

"Not totally unexpected" that a bill they described in this way passed 78-18? Perhaps what IS surprising is that the resounding defeat still didn't wake them up to the truth about how wrong they were on the bill's contents.

Perhaps the best email from Roberts to his New York bosses came in the minutes after the Restaurant Carry bill passed in the House:

Hate losing.

My advice to Roberts and his pals? Get used to it.

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

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