House committee holds first hearing on HB191 (Align Firearms Definitions)

by Chad D. Baus

State Rep. John Becker delivered sponsor testimony on House Bill 191 Tuesday before the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security committee.

HB191 would change the state's Weapons Control Law by removing from the definition of "automatic firearm" a semi-automatic firearm that is designed or adapted to fire more than 31 cartridges without reloading.

Section 2923.11 defines many gun related terms.

(D) "Semi-automatic firearm" means any firearm designed or specially adapted to fire a single cartridge and automatically chamber a succeeding cartridge ready to fire, with a single function of the trigger.

(E) "Automatic firearm" means any firearm designed or specially adapted to fire a succession of cartridges with a single function of the trigger. "Automatic firearm" also means any semi-automatic firearm designed or specially adapted to fire more than thirty-one cartridges without reloading, other than a firearm chambering only .22 caliber short, long, or long-rifle cartridges.

The definition of a "semi-automatic firearm" is correct. The definition of an "Automatic firearms" is correct too. Then there is a second sentence that is wrong. Becker's bill seeks to strike that second sentence, resulting in a correct definition in the Ohio Revised Code.

This is an important bill because there terms are well understood and defined in Federal law and other states. We are not aware of any other state that has such a bastardized definition of automatic firearms.

"Ohio law includes a clause that defines a semi-automatic weapon as fully automatic when it carries more than 31 rounds, but it is ridiculous to call any weapon 'fully automatic' based on an arbitrary magazine size," Becker said in a press release. "An AR-15 rifle doesn't suddenly become a machine gun by inserting a 40-round magazine."

If enacted, HB191 would align Ohio's definitions of the firearms with those of federal law.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer's coverage of the bill, published prior to the hearing:

In Ohio, a person can purchase an automatic weapon but it is costly, requires extensive background checks – and a local police chief must sign off on the purchase, said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association. If legally purchased, the owner can fire an automatic weapon with a magazine of any size, but if the weapon is semi-automatic there is no legal way to use a magazine exceeding 30 rounds, Irvine said.

If the bill is passed, an automatic weapon would be defined as one that fires multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger. Becker and Irvine say this would align Ohio's definition of automatic weapons with the federal law's definition.

"The definition is wrong. You never changed the function of the gun at all," Irvine said. "It's actually an insane law."

Even Toby Hoover, executive director for the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said she understands the reason for clarifying the definition, but never-the-less warned that allowing larger magazines could lead to more gun violence.

Irvine told The Enquirer that Hoover and others can work towards enacting magazine restrictions, but that would not solve a single problem.

"At the end of the day, the amount of ammunition in a magazine doesn't determine if someone is going to live or die. It's the person holding the gun who determines that," Irvine said.

After his testimony, Becker was asked several questions by members of the committee. Representative Mallory (D) inquired about the rules for acquiring automatic weapons. Representative Perales (R) asked about law enforcement input and how home rule would play into the change.

Representative Becker was well prepared and did a good job explaining his bill to the committee. We thank him for his work on this important bill.

Following is Becker's testimony in its entirety:

Greetings Chairman Damschroder, Vice Chairman Ruhl, Ranking Minority Member Mallory and fellow members of the committee:

Thank you for allowing me to appear before you today to offer sponsor testimony for HB 191.

A revolver fires one shot each time the trigger is pressed. A semi-automatic firearm fires one shot each time the trigger is pressed. The "automatic" part of the definition is that it automatically inserts the next round of ammunition into the chamber, something the revolver does not necessarily do. A fully-automatic firearm fires continuously (as long as there is sufficient ammunition) with one pull of the trigger. These are also commonly referred to as "machine guns."

You all might recall HB 495 from the 129th GA. It was sponsored by Representative Johnson and signed into law. Amongst other things, it corrected the definition of a loaded gun to be a gun that is actually loaded. (The previous definition of a loaded gun included a detached magazine with ammunition loaded into it.)

As a parallel to that, HB 191 corrects the definition of an automatic weapon to mean a weapon that is actually automatic. The Ohio Revised Code includes a sentence that [mis] defines an automatic weapon to include a semi-automatic that will "fire more than thirty-one cartridges without reloading." HB 191 simply deletes that sentence.

The common man would consider it ridiculous to call any firearm "fully automatic" based on an arbitrary magazine size. For example, an AR 15 semi-automatic rifle doesn't suddenly become a machine gun by inserting a 40 round magazine. You would still have to pull and release the trigger 40 times.

Furthermore, after filing the proper paperwork and passing an FBI background check, any law abiding citizen can obtain a federal tax stamp for the purpose of owning a fully automatic Uzi, M16, or other machine gun. After fulfilling all necessary requirements and paying for the federal tax stamp, any of us could legally own a fully automatic Uzi and use it with magazines of any size.

To reiterate, with the proper documentation, under both federal and Ohio law, we can own machine guns with magazines of any size. There are no capacity limitations. However, Ohio law makes it impossible for any individual to legally insert a fully loaded 40 round magazine into any semi-automatic firearm. Again, Ohio law places restrictions on magazine capacity attached to semi-automatic firearms only – not machine guns.

Being as large capacity magazines are legal to own and readily available for a wide variety of semi-automatic firearms, HB 191 would not make it any easier to acquire the firearms or the magazines. It simply deletes one sentence from the Ohio Revised Code correcting an incorrect definition in our code. Restrictions on fully automatic firearms would remain unchanged. HB 191 aligns Ohio law with federal law on these definitions.

In conclusion, I'd like to thank you for your attention and I am asking you all for your affirmative vote on HB 191.

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

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