Obscure commission considers "modernizing" Ohio constitution on right to bear arms

Does the "right to bear arms" section of Ohio's consitution need to be "modernized?" Some members of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission (OCMC) think so.

I recently came across an article published by the Gongwer News Service in June, in which it was reported that the obscure panel's Bill of Rights and Voting Rights Committee had reversed course on a planned vote to recommend to the full commission that no alterations be made to the state constitution's recognition of the right to keep and bear arms.

From the article:

A panel of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission on Thursday had second thoughts about recommending no change to a section on the right to bear arms.

The Bill of Rights and Voting Rights Committee voted to table its planned vote to recommend to the full commission that no alterations be made. Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) voted against tabling.


Article 1, Section 4, which pertains to the right to bear arms, was adopted into the state constitution in 1802 and modified to its current form in 1851, Chairman Richard Saphire said.

The panel, which takes separate votes on its recommendations during two meetings before sending them to the full OCMC, had voted last month to not make any changes to the section.

This month, however, member Edward Gilbert said he was "sort of uncomfortable with that language given the current situation with the shootings in the school and so forth."

He said he didn't think the panel had researched the topic enough and thought there might be room to put some limits on the right to possess a firearm while not coming in conflict with the right as laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Saphire said there is always the possibility the panel could reword or restate the section to provide greater clarity.

"My understanding is the Ohio Supreme Court has said it was basically going to take a reasonableness approach with respect to the power of the state to regulate, for example, the possession or use of firearms, handguns and the like," he said. "The U.S. Supreme Court...so far has signaled that it is going to take a very flexible approach with respect to the government's ability to regulate under the Second Amendment."

The chairman said the language is close to what was originally adopted in 1802.

Mr. Gilbert responded by saying, "That's the problem, in my opinion. This is not 1802."

According to the article, Mr. Saphire said he thinks the panel can look at "better ways" to phrase the section and compare it to other states. He proposed tabling the section for later consideration, which the panel did.

The section which the panel is considering attempting to change states as follows:

§ 1.04 Bearing arms; standing armies; military powers (1851)

The people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security; but standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and shall not be kept up; and the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.

So just who are the people who would like to "modernize" our right to bear arms for defense and security?

According to his bio on the OCMC website, Edward Gilbert is a public member of the OCMC. Gilbert graduated from Zanesville High School in Zanesville, Ohio in 1969. He went on to Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio where he studied Theoretical Economics and Speech, played on the varsity football team and served as an officer of the Black Student Union. He earned his degree in 1973 having received the Schwartz Award for general excellence in college work. Mr. Gilbert attended the University of Akron School of Law where he served as President of the Black American Law Students of America, Akron Branch. He earned his Juris Doctorate in 1976. Attorney Gilbert has been a principal in the law firms of Parms, Purnell, Stubbs & Gilbert; Slater, Zurz & Gilbert and is presently practicing in Akron, Ohio at Edward L. Gilbert Co., L.P.A. His practice focuses on civil rights litigation and constitutional law violations. Since he began practicing law in 1976, Mr. Gilbert has won more than 50 million dollars in verdicts for civil rights and constitutional law violations. Mr. Gilbert is president of The Akron-Canton Barristers Association, a group of approximately 75 African American attorneys in Stark and Summit Counties. He is a member of the Akron Bar Association and the Ohio Bar Association and serves on the NAACP Legal Redress Committee covering five Northeastern Ohio counties. His email is [email protected].

According to his bio on the OCMC website, Professor Richard Saphire received his BA degree from the Ohio State University in 1967, his JD degree from Chase Law School (now, Northern Kentucky State University), in 1971, and an LL.M degree from Harvard Law School in 1975. After law school, he worked as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati. In 1975 he began his law teaching career at Oklahoma City University, and since 1976 has been on the faculty of the University of Dayton School of Law. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and at Northern Kentucky State University College of Law. Professor Saphire's primary areas of teaching and scholarship have been United States and Ohio constitutional law, civil rights, complex litigation, professional responsibility, judicial administration, homelessness and the law, voting rights, human rights, and law and religion. His email is [email protected].

Other members of the Bill of Rights and Voting Rights Committee can be found here.

Members of the entire OCMC can be found here.

According to the OCMC website, under R.C. 103.63, the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is composed of 32 members - twelve legislative members and 20 public members. Three legislative members are appointed from each legislative caucus by their respective legislative leaders.

The Bill of Rights and Voting Right committee has been meeting nearly every month since May 2013. According to a committee report posted on the website after they met in July:

The Committee deferred to its next meeting further consideration of Article I, Section 4, of the Ohio Constitution pertaining to the “Right to Bear Arms.” (At its May meeting, the Committee had voted to recommend retention of this provision in its current form.) The Committee expressed its appreciation to Chris Smith for preparing a detailed comparative analysis of similar provisions from other states’ Constitutions.

...The Committee agreed that it would not meet in August.

Buckeye Firearms Association will be keeping a VERY close eye on the OCMC's actions in the future, and we hope you will take the time to share your thoughts now. Commission members need to know that ANY proposal to weaken our state constitution's recognition of our right to bear arms for defense and security will be met with vigorous grassroots objection.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.

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