Portage Co. Sheriff’s Dept. under fire for denying CHL applicant over music video
A Cleveland area man is threatening legal action after being denied a concealed handgun license renewal because of an image found in a social media post.
Lamont Gist told WOIO (CBS Cleveland) that he went to Portage County to renew his license because they had open appointments, something many counties did not have at the time due to the ongoing pandemic. He was shocked when he was told that his renewal application was being denied.
From the article:
Gist says he works full time as an Amazon delivery driver, and he writes rap music with his brother on the side.
When deputies denied him the permit, one of them held up a picture from a music video Gist was in that had been posted to YouTube in 2018.
“What does that have to do with my CCW,” Gist asked.
The deputy replied, saying, “a picture says a thousand words.”
Gist and his bother[sic] appear to be sitting at a table with marijuana and tequila.
“I told them I’m a Cleveland rapper. I told them it was props in the video,” Gist said.
“Drugs and alcohol starts a lot of problems, period. And, that’s what the video was about."
Lamont has never been in trouble with the law. But according to Portage County deputies, confusion about the identity of Lamont and his brother Lavonte - who has had trouble with the law and has reportedly used Lamont's name in the past - led them to begin scouring social media in order to confirm his identity. That's when they came across the 2018 music video featuring the two brothers.
Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski and his deputies did not reply to our requests for an on camera interview.
However in a written statement, department told 19 Investigates, “based on this image and the presence of what appears to be an illicit substance as well as the presence of a wanted felon in the same image, Sherriff Zuchowski decided to deny the issuance of a CCW permit.”
According to the ACLU, provocative and controversial entertainment such as a music video, should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
Ohio has a "shall issue" licensure system, meaning that the law instructs that sheriffs "shall issue" a license unless an applicant is disqualified. The reasons for disqualification are listed in the Ohio Revised Code. Appearing in a music video with what appears to be an illicit substance, or even with a wanted felon (and it is unclear if the man was wanted back in 2018) are not listed among reasons for disqualification.
Ohio law further states that "if a sheriff denies an application under this section because the applicant does not satisfy the criteria described in division (D)(1) of this section, the sheriff shall specify the grounds for the denial in a written notice to the applicant." But Gist says he didn't receive even a verbal explanation, let alone in writing.
Rather than wait for a legal action which could have forced the Portage County Sheriff to issue the license to play out, Gist re-applied in Ashland County, where he says his experience was much, much different.
“Very different, totally different. It was a 10-minute process there. She scanned my ID, fingerprinted me, took my money and my application and said she was going to call me when my id was ready.”
So why the difference?
19 investigates wanted to know if the application process was arbitrary or perhaps even worse, if it had a built in bias.
Philip Smith is the President of the National African American Gun Rights Association.
“You have to have a process that’s fair,” Smith said.
Smith believes Gist’s experience in the two counties shows Ohio’s CCW system may be flawed.
“I think there’s some issues that may be internally wrong in their process,” he said.
Smith believes Gist is one of many African Americans part of a national trend.
“I think it’s not even debatable that [black men] are denied at a higher rate,” Smith said.
However, there isn’t data to prove any sort of trend, because CCW information is not public record.
“Me personally just speaking from experience, nothing statistical, I would say yes [African Americans are denied more frequently than those other races],” Smith said.
According to data from the state, WOIO reports the Portage County Sheriff’s office has only denied two CCW permits in the last two years. Though Gist got his license, he told WOIO he does still plan to take legal action against the Portage County Sheriff’s Department.
Overcoming any inconsistencies or bias in the application process is one of many reasons Buckeye Firearms Association is committed to passage of a Constitutional Carry bill in Ohio.
Such a bill would allow anyone who is legally allowed to be in possession of a firearm to carry it concealed, whether or not they chose to apply for an Ohio concealed handgun license. BFA has always been in favor of Constitutional Carry and believes it is central to the right to keep and bear arms.
Chad D. Baus served as Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary from 2013-2019, and continues to serve on the Board of Directors. He is co-founder of BFA-PAC, and served as its Vice Chairman for 15 years. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website, and is also an NRA-certified firearms instructor.