House committee holds hearing on gun bills; Law enforcement organizations embarrass themselves

On Tuesday, May 23, 2017 the Ohio House Federalism and Interstate Relations Committee Chaired by Rep. Kristine Roegner (R-Hudson) held hearings on two gun-related bills.

First up was HB 201, sponsored by Representatives Ron Hood (R-Ashville) and Tom Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout), for proponent testimony. This is a “Constitutional Carry” bill, similar to ones that have been offered in previous sessions, but also contains a provision that eliminates the need for concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to notify law-enforcement if they are armed.

Chris Dorr of Ohio Gun Owners and Jeff Smith gave testimony in support of HB 201. They noted that 13 other states have passed similar laws and it is working well in all those states.

Committee members asked questions about open carry, reciprocity for license holders and prohibited persons carrying guns, and received answers explaining how this legislation would not change the legality or illegality for any of these.

Next on the docket was HB 142, sponsored by Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster). This bill seeks to repeal requirements that, when detained for a law-enforcement purpose, a concealed carry licensee must "promptly inform" an approaching law enforcement officer that the licensee is a licensee and is carrying a concealed handgun. This was the first chance for opponents to this bill to be heard in committee.

Jennifer Thorne of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence (OCAGV) testified in opposition. While I disagree with her premise, her testimony was short and to the point. She was by far the best of the opposition testimony.

Representing law enforcement in opposition were Heinz von Eckarsberg, Chief of Police of Dublin Police Department representing the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), Michael Weinman, representing the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) of Ohio, and Sheriff Jim Sabin, representing the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association (BSSA).

The uniformed officers looked great in their uniforms. The picture of professionalism. Then they opened their mouth. It was embarrassing to witness.

Their testimony can be summed up as "CHLs are a danger to police" (apparently more so than criminals), "and it is required that citizens be the professionals and bear the burden of notifying police they are armed because police can’t safely take on the burden of asking a question."

Committee members asked several basic questions that law enforcement seemed to think were too difficult to answer.

"What is the definition of 'promptly?'" Not one officer could give a clear definition.

"Is it fair to charge someone who forgot or was not given the chance to notify with the same level of crime of someone driving drunk?" No officer wanted to agree that driving drunk was not a severe crime, yet we know the majority of states don't bother to have any penalty for not telling police if they are armed.

"Do you think the law needs to be clarified?" No.

You’ll have to ask the officers to explain how those pieces fit together in a logical way, because I can't.

All three officers testified that their concern was officer safety, but none could explain why license holders were the concern more than criminals, who they admit will not likely notify.

Weinman was asked if there were any situations in the 40 states that have no requirement where the failure to have such a law was part of the cause where an LEO was shot/murdered. He could not cite any such cases.

Opponents complained that, at the last hearing, proponents used exceptional cases and that the several cases of police officers acting improperly were no reason to change the law. They cited a 2008 case where a license holder shot and killed a police officer in Ohio. It is the only incident in the country that I’m aware of where a license holder killed a police officer during a traffic stop. They were asked how many times this has happened, but no witness could name any other such case. Apparently multiple bad examples of problems are no reason to change the law for citizens, but one bad example is all that is needed to justify a bad law.

Maybe the most troubling testimony was by Chief Eckartsberg, but it was an issue that Weinman and Sabin both jumped on as well.

They testified that seeing a gun caused them to react in an “emergency” mode. That the presence of a gun with no other indication of a crime was just cause to act differently, and to treat the individual differently, that there was no time for talk, they had to take immediate action. They were all clear that it was the presence of a gun that was dangerous, not any other actions by the individual.

They might want to read Northrup v City of Toledo Police Dept., where the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled otherwise. In that case Officer David Brights’ same attitude was found to be so egregious that he even lost his qualified immunity.

It is truly sad that those representing three law enforcement organizations exhibited such indifference and even hostility to the rights of the citizens there are sworn to defend. Law enforcement is a difficult and often dangerous job, done daily by men and women with a lot more respect and professionalism than those who supposedly represented them in the statehouse.

The lone voice of reasonableness representing law enforcement was Andrew Blubaugh. He noted in part:

As a police officer I am not worried about [license holders]. The CHL holders are the good guys. I am concerned with the bad guys. The convicted felon who is unlawfully carrying a firearm is not going to notify. The career criminal or the anti-government person is not going to notify. The person who shoots an officer as they walk up their car during a traffic stop is not going to notify. These are the people I am concerned about - the dangerous 1%. This 1% of society is what is dangerous to the law enforcement officer during the course of our duties.

When officers remain silent, they let spokespersons with varying agenda speak for the rank and file.

Testimony concluded with John Hohenwarter of the National Rifle Association. He has been involved in this debate for 20 years and is familiar with laws in many other states, something lacking in other witnesses. He explained the history and the problems because Governor Bob Taft (R) was hostile toward concealed carry, and insisted in many provisions that have proved to be problematic. Every session we are back trying to improve the law and fix bad things that were inserted at the insistence of a governor opposed the basic idea of concealed carry.

Hohenwarter noted that this provision was, “Bad in 2004, and it's bad now.”

We thank Chairwomen Roegner and the other committee members who were prepared and asked pertinent questions of the witnesses.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association President, BFA PAC Chairman and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."

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