Will Ohio CHL-holders get the blame for 2005's urban crime problems?

By Chad D. Baus

The first 21 months of concealed carry in Ohio have provided pro-gun rights advocates a plethora of opportunities to disprove the rhetoric their opponents in the gun ban movements have thrown around during the near decade-long debate on concealed carry in the Buckeye State. There has been no soccer mom shootout, fender-bender murder, or Wild West-style vigilantism. There haven't even been the predicted childs-finds-gun-in-mom's-purse accidents. And believe me, gun owners who have endured years of such outlandish predictions from legislators, gun ban organizations and the establishment are ready and willing to take every opportunity to point this out.

Without taking away from observations that do need to be made, I believe that as we approach opponent testimony on Ohio House Bill 347, Buckeye State gun owners would be remiss if we did not also examine our own predictions pre-concealed carry. Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair Ken Hanson recently detailed how right we were about how this legislation would save lives. But as year-end news headlines rung the body count for homicides in Ohio's cities last month, I began to think about how the gun ban extremists may try to exploit other of our assertions for what could change in Ohio if concealed carry became law. My prediction is that statistics effected by increasing gang violence in some of Ohio's major cities will be used in an attempt to impune Ohio's law-abiding gun owners...

At the exact time Ohio House Bill 12 (the legislation which eventually became Ohio's concealed carry law) was being debated, FBI Uniform Crime Reports from the state of Michigan showed that in the first three years of that state's shall-issue law, the overall crime rate in the Great Lakes state dropped 10.5%, while to the south, Ohio's had seen a 5% increase.

Pro-self-defense advocates were wise to point to these statistics to show legislators that despite all the rhetoric of the day, there was no reason to believe a concealed carry law would result in more crime. So will we see similar results in Ohio? And if not, what (if anything) would it say about the success of Ohio's concealed carry law?

Ohio sheriffs began accepting applications for concealed handgun licenses in April 2004, with the first licenses issued several weeks later. By the end of 2004, 45,562* Ohioans were licensed to carry a concealed firearm. According to the FBI, in 2004 the overall violent crime rate (which includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) increased 2.4% in Ohio, while the rest of the nation's decreased 2.2%.

In the first three quarters of 2005, another 18,154* Ohioans obtained concealed handgun licenses, bringing the total number of CHL-holders after 18 months to 63,716. The FBI has only released preliminary statistics for the first six months of 2005 in a few Ohio cities, but consider some of the headlines that have circulated in Ohio as year-end wraps:

    Associated Press: Cincinnati homicide number near record
    Ohio's third-largest city was close to a record for homicides in 2005. There were 79 as of early Saturday. The record was 81 in 1971. Police say most homicides are drug-related. The majority occur in predominantly black neighborhoods.

    Columbus Dispatch: First homicide of 2005 was Jan. 1; 103 followed
    By year’s end, 104 people were killed in Columbus, the second highest homicide total for the city in at least 10 years. In 2004, there were 88 homicides; in 2003, 112. The record for homicides was set in 1991 at 139. According to statistics provided by Columbus police, homicide victims and suspects last year were mostly black men between 20 and 30 years old. And among the 61 homicides police solved this year, about one-third were drug-related.

    Toledo Blade: Toledo police log 30 violent deaths

    Toledo police logged 30 homicides last year. The figure is down one from 2004, when seven children who died in a South Toledo fire were counted in that year's total. Last year's homicide victims included 19 men, six women, three teenagers, and two children - one only five weeks old who was allegedly shaken by his father. Seven of the crimes remain unsolved. Investigators said motives in the crimes include drugs, robbery, domestic disputes, and simple anger.

In the Dispatch article, Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist who directs a violence research center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said that when the number of homicides and violent crimes rise in any city, that usually means a new drug market is emerging.

Even without this "expert" testimony, it is clear that the illegal drug trade provides a strong theme in the challenges facing Ohio's major cities.

Indeed, this next story indicates many of Cleveland's homicides in 2005 were also due to this same social problem:

    Cleveland Plain Dealer: Many '05 slayings involved young, troubled

    Cleveland youths were shot, beaten and stabbed to death - mostly by their peers - on the city's streets at an alarming rate in 2005.

    In a year in which the region mourned the deaths of nine people in an intentionally set house fire on Cleveland's East Side, 115 people were killed in the city as a whole. In Cuyahoga County, 143 people were killed. More than 40 percent of the victims and arrested suspects were under the age of 25.

    Often, the people killed were not sympathetic souls. They were similar to their own killers. Many had had long-standing addictions to drugs. They fed their habits by burglarizing homes and robbing people at gunpoint and often were robbed themselves in violent altercations that came along with their lifestyle.

    ...Cleveland's homicide total was the highest since 1995, when 131 people were killed. Akron police investigated 29 homicides last year, 17 more than in 2004.

    ...Homicide is a crime that can be nearly impossible to predict, but often the victims and killers' fatal paths begin to converge with drugs and alcohol.

    Last year, half of the men and women killed in the region had drugs or alcohol in their system. And 47 percent of victims and people arrested for killing them had a felony history of robbery, burglary, assault or drug crimes, the majority being burglary and drug possession.

John Sommer, director of Ohio's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency, told the Plain Dealer he has seen an upswing in violent crimes related to drugs and gangs.

"Their number is unbelievably large related to drug and alcohol abuse . . . whether a theft or a shootout between rival gang members, all that stuff is related," Sommer said.

Concealed carry reform laws cannot be expected (and were never promised) to have an impact on these types of criminal against criminal violence.

However, past history (and a few initial responses) gives every reason to expect that any increases (or lack of significant decreases) will be used by gun ban extremists to blame guns, no matter where else the fault truly lies.

Consider this quote in the Columbus Dispatch:

    Noel Williams, president of the Columbus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there are too many guns.

    "I don’t want to sound like this extreme leftist liberal, but I truly believe they (guns) are just too easily obtained," she said.

    With little or no education, many are forced to take jobs that don’t offer wages they can live on, Williams said.

    "You resort to what’s in the streets: robbery, murder, drugs," she said.

Just as Ms. Williams blames guns, lack of education and poverty instead of blaming the people who commit these horrible, violent crimes, you can expect gun ban extremists who testify against HB347 when the Criminal Justice committee hears opponent testimony, to use the same sort of "logic" to blame concealed carry for every gang-banger/drunken/druggie homicide that has occurred in Ohio since the law became active.

State legislators should be encouraged to keep the truth about the main source of Ohio's crime in mind when the various anti-gun "experts" offer testimony filed with the same old rhetoric blaming law-abiding gun owners for the worst of our society's ills.

*Ohio CHL numbers from Ohio Attorney General's office. Totals include both standard CHLs and temporary emergency licenses.

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