Reflections on 20+ Years of Effective Gun Rights Advocacy in Ohio
As we mark the signing of Senate Bill 215, an Act which will bring the ability for permitless carry to anyone who would qualify for an Ohio concealed handgun license (CHL), I have found myself reflecting on my more-than two decades of work as a Second Amendment advocate.
After spending 1990-2001 in Indiana (a state that has ZERO training requirement to obtain a concealed handgun license) and Tennessee (where I obtained my first license to carry a concealed handgun), I moved back home to the Buckeye State (where concealed carry was illegal and people who attempted to open carry were regularly harassed by law enforcement).
It didn't take more than a day of going about my business without the ability to exercise my right to bear arms for self-defense before I started looking for people who were trying to bring concealed carry to Ohio.
I quickly found that group - Ohioans for Concealed Carry (OFCC) - and immediately volunteered. I began helping by spreading information about the effort to area gun stores, manning tables at gun shows, as well as writing letters to legislators and newspaper editors.
As I got more involved, I learned that there had been efforts to pass concealed carry in Ohio since at least 1995, when a "may-issue" bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Vukovich (D) passed in the Senate, but died after opposition from then-House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson (R) and then-Gov. George Voinovich (R).
Several "shall-issue" bills had also been introduced in the years from 1995-2002, but despite various levels of advancement through one chamber or the other, these efforts continued to fall victim to opposition from Davidson, Voinovich, and eventually Gov. Bob Taft (R).
Despite the fact that the Republican-led legislative and executive branches had proven themselves as-yet unwilling to pass even a restrictive concealed carry licensure system, there were individuals pushing for an "all or nothing" approach to gun rights.
In each session there would be at least one legislator who would dutifully introduce a so-called "Vermont-style" carry bill (or what we would now call permitless carry or Constitutional Carry), and then their "all or nothing" friends would send fundraiser mailers condemning efforts to pass anything less.
It soon became clear that these people, who were paying themselves large portions of what they raised as so-called "consulting fees," had a vested financial interest in prolonging the fight to pass meaningful gun rights reform in Ohio. The longer they got to stomp their feet and beg for dollars to pass a "real" gun rights bill, the better for their personal pocketbook.
As a relatively young, decidedly unwealthy person who was volunteering countless hours to the effort to bring concealed carry to Ohio, this was absolutely reprehensible to me.
Recognizing the need to change the makeup of the legislature to one that more closely reflected the wants and needs of Ohioans when it came to our Second Amendment rights, we established a political action committee in 2002, so that we could make endorsements and support the campaigns of individuals who supported the effort to reform Buckeye State gun laws. This PAC, which was sponsored for several years by OFCC, is the entity which eventually became known as Buckeye Firearms Association (BFA), and many of its original volunteers are still here to this day.
Before all that, however, as we fought for a concealed carry bill that could actually be passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Taft, we continued to defend against attacks from the "all or nothing" crowd, who sensed that their golden fundraising goose would be cooked if a concealed carry bill became law.
When a legal effort to get Ohio's ban on concealed carry declared unconstitutional failed in late 2003, after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the ban didn't violate the state constitution since open carry was legal, we organized Open Carry walks in various Ohio cities, as well as in front of the Governor's mansion and at the home of then-Senate President Doug White (R). White had been refusing to organize a conference committee to work out differences in two versions of a concealed-carry bill which had passed in the Senate and House.
Governor Taft continued his attempts to kill the effort by insisting on the insertion of as many "poison pills" as possible. When the legislature finally produced a compromise bill that met Taft's demands, he moved the goalposts yet again, insisting that the media be given access to the entire list of CHL-holders.
The legislature finally decided to agree, amending the bill and sending it to Taft's desk. Once again, the "all or nothing" crowd attacked OFCC and the NRA for not having opposed the final changes, a move which would have killed the bill.
We knew the final bill had problems. But we also knew that once we got over the big hurdle of passing a bill, we could begin working to improve and "de-Taft" the law. Many of us committed then to stay in the fight and dedicate our time until ALL of the Taft poison bills were removed. Our ultimate goal, even then, was ALWAYS a permitless carry or constitutional carry law in Ohio.
As I stand here 20 years later, having passed a historic “permitless carry” bill, I can't help but reflect on those early battles between the “all or nothing” crowd (who never managed to pass any bills) and those of us who knew that an incremental approach was the only realistic way to improve gun laws in the state. And I can't help but notice the unprofessional social media antics of a few money-hungry brothers who prefer to put on a show and pass the hat rather than do the hard work and pass a bill.
Had their efforts to get legislators to vote against SB 215 been successful, there would be nothing to celebrate this week.
But of course now that their efforts have failed, now that the bill did pass and has been signed by the governor (whom they also criticized despite fulfilling a campaign promise), they're acting as through the victory is theirs' (and asking for more donations).
The names in the "all or nothing" crowd have changed over the years, but the goal is the same - money, money, money.
Meanwhile, the many volunteers at Buckeye Firearms Association are still here. And we'll be here next session, fighting for the rights of real people and relentlessly improving the laws, just like we have done for the past two decades.
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.
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