Columbus Dispatch publishes extensive look at successful efforts of pro-gun rights advocates in Ohio

A front-page story in Sunday, June 13 edition of The Columbus Dispatch took an extensive look at the recent efforts by the National Rifle Association, Buckeye Firearms Association and other pro-gun groups to modernize Ohio's concealed carry law to more closely resemble that of surrounding states by allowing license-holders to protect themselves in restaurants that serve alcohol, and by removing cumbersome restrictions on how license-holders may carry in a motor-vehicle.

From the article:

Ohio permit holders cannot yet carry their handguns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, but gun advocates say it's only a matter of time.

The National Rifle Association, with assistance from a pair of state-based gun-advocacy organizations, is once again showing off its significant muscle in the Ohio legislature.

Despite opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, county sheriffs, police chiefs and state associations representing county prosecutors - all of whom call it a bad and dangerous idea - Senate Bill 239 breezed through the Senate recently with a bipartisan 23-10 vote.

It took a procedural maneuver to block the gun issue from coming up for a vote in the full House.

In addition to allowing permit holders to carry guns into businesses that serve alcohol - as long as they are not drinking - the proposal also would loosen restrictions on how a gun must be carried in a vehicle.

"From our surveys, I expect that if it does come before the House, it's going to pass," said Ken Hanson, legislative chairman for the Buckeye Firearms Association.

Police and sheriffs told the Dispatch they were stunned that the bill passed the Senate without any private meetings to hash out compromises.

"It's clear the NRA has a special degree of clout," said McKenzie Davis, a veteran lobbyist whose clients include the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association. Of the interests Davis deals with around the Statehouse, only brand-name pharmaceuticals rival the gun lobby in influence, he said.

Mark Drum, legislative chairman for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said the bill was "ramrodded" through the Senate. He said the bill would allow drivers to carry guns in a quick-draw holster on the dashboard, or "they can twirl the gun in their fingers while they're driving down the highway."

"We think it's all political for the statewide election year," Drum said.

The article notes that former Gov. Bob Taft often deferred to law enforcement on concealed-carry issues, giving them plenty of leverage to shape the legislation, which became law more than six years ago and has since been made less restrictive.

But The Dispatch notes that NRA-endorsed Gov. Ted Strickland has paid little heed to law-enforcement concerns on gun issuesm and has said he would sign the restaurant and car carry bill if it passes the House.

The article notes that many legislators covet an NRA endorsement, which can bring with it money and energized voters. But contrary to a claims often repeated by the media, including an infamous Dayton Daily News article published in the wake of passage of Ohio's concealed carry law, the Dispatch article notes that money isn't what makes the pro-gun rights lobby so powerful.

The NRA's clout does not stem from direct campaign contributions, though some say its endorsement can broaden a candidate's pool of donors. The NRA's political-action committee is a modest player, giving lawmakers $37,000 since the start of 2007, mostly in sums of $500 or less. Two other Ohio-based gun-advocacy groups combined to give about $12,000.

But the NRA offers backing other than financial. Hanson said that in February, his group put out a call for volunteers to do campaign work at gun shows, and within three days 104 had signed up. Now, advocates have a fully staffed presence at every show, he said.

"For our endorsed candidates, that's unpaid staff that they don't have to coordinate that is standing at a gun show handing out their literature to 5,000 people," Hanson said. "There is no lower-cost channel to communicate."

The Dispatch article also details a nearly-successful attempt by pro-gun legislators recently to get a floor vote on SB239 before the summer recess.

On the House floor two weeks ago, Republicans tried to stick the new gun language into an unrelated bill. But Democrats led by Speaker Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, used a rare move to call the vote before Rep. Danny R. Bubp, R-West Union, could offer the amendment.

The 46 minority Republicans, combined with the roughly 10 NRA-backed House Democrats, could have produced a majority vote.

"It would have passed, no doubt in my mind," Bubp said. "If someone goes into a restaurant and gets hurt because they can't defend themselves, I'm going to be the first to say we should have done this."

The article goes on to note that the two sides paint very different pictures of the bill's impact.

Opponents talk about carrying guns into strip clubs, nightclubs or any local watering hole, where alcohol- or hormone-infused arguments can quickly escalate into violence.

"They are, as advocates love to say, law-abiding citizens," Davis said. "That is, until the minute they are not a law-abiding citizen, and then it could be too late for officers."

Supporters talk about carrying in family-friendly restaurants such as Applebee's or Max & Erma's, where permit holders can enjoy a burger and feel safe without having to worry about locking up a gun in the car.

"What (opponents) are testifying to is fear of the unknown," Hanson said. "If you look at all of these other states that have done this ... never do any of these states try to restrict it or revoke it. It's just not a problem anyplace."

As a further example of the fear of the unknown to which opponents are testifying, the Dispatch quoted Sen. David Goodman (R) of Franklin Co., who voted against the bill:

Goodman said he understands why those living in rural areas want to protect themselves when the nearest police officer might be miles away. But having a gun in a bar "doesn't make common sense to me," he said.

If a criminal enters a bar or restaurant with a gun, he is most likely trying to rob the place, Goodman said.

"I don't want somebody sitting next to me to pull out their gun because they've had one weekend of training and start shooting away," he said. "Suddenly that robbery becomes a shootout and people get killed."

But Sen. Jim Hughes, also of Franklin Co., said he represented his suburban constituents by voting for the bill.

"The people in my district have overwhelmingly told me ... that they don't have a problem as long as it's law-abiding citizens carrying in a restaurant who have gone though the proper training," Hughes said.

A former city and county assistant prosecutor, Hughes said he spoke to rank-and-file police officers who shared a similar view. Based on stories of attacks told in committee, he says the bill could save lives.

42 states allow some kind of gun access to places that serve alcohol, and Ohio is the only state to place such complex limitations on license holders' right to carry in motor vehicles.

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