In Ohio, it is now OK to possess a hidden, loaded handgun in cars and bars, public parks and parking lots. Gun owners have broad discretion in using deadly force against burglars and car thieves. A 12-hour gun training course is still needed to get a concealed-carry permit, one of the stiffest requirements in the country. But in 2008, a written test to renew a concealed-carry license was abolished as over-regulation.
Today, seven years after the Buckeye State first allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons, more than a quarter-million Ohioans have concealed carry permits. People debate the impact, although the fact that the identity of the permit holders is off limits to the general public makes that tough. A law giving reporters access to the information was scaled back after gun rights’ groups complained that the press had abused the privilege.
The sweeping changes are part of a little-known but dramatic expansion of user-friendly gun laws across the country. Rough estimates put the number of concealed carry permit holders at between 4 and 7 million nationwide.
In just the past three years, 22 states have weakened or eliminated laws regulating the possession of concealed weapons, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a public-interest law firm in San Francisco that supports more restrictive gun laws.
These measures are easing testing and eligibility requirements for obtaining a permit, opening up new public and private places where people can have concealed weapons, and giving new legal clout to those who use guns to defend themselves.
Many states now give concealed carry permit holders the right to have their guns in parked cars at work — and some have extended the right to parents picking up their children in school zones. Landlords are being told they can no longer refuse to lease property to someone who owns guns.
Since Nov. 1, a sweeping new Wisconsin concealed carry law allows weapons on parts of college campuses and in government buildings. (See Sidebar.)
Last year, Louisiana lawmakers enacted a new law allowing churches and other houses of worship to have armed security guards with concealed weapons.
Kansas allows its permit holders to drink while carrying a concealed weapon, so long as they are not legally intoxicated, under the state’s Personal and Family Protection Act, enacted in 2006.
Utah amended its concealed-carry laws in 2003 to clarify that permit holders may bring their guns into public schools.
Numerous states have also lowered barriers to obtaining a permit. Since 2009, Virginia has allowed applicants to satisfy a training and safety requirement under the law by completing an online test. That has given rise to a cottage industry of instructors who promise results in about an hour – no prior experience necessary.
Last year, Arizona decided to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons without any permit at all, declaring that the right to do so cannot be limited under the state’s constitution. Three other states now have similar laws.
Some anti-gun activists see that as the ultimate aim of what concealed-carry proponents are shooting for: hollowing out the law until there is nothing left to enforce.
“It is the Swiss cheese effect,” says Andy Goddard, president of the Richmond, Va., chapter of the Million Mom March against gun violence. “You keep shooting holes in the bill until there is nothing left.”
The liberalization of concealed carry laws in the states is also helping drive legislation on Capitol Hill for a federal concealed carry law that would require states to recognize each other’s permits. The measure, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Gun rights proponents see a system analogous to how states now honor each others’ driver’s licenses.
Critics say the law would undercut local control in states that have imposed tough licensing requirements out of concern for the safety of their citizens.
All of this legislative wrangling also reveals a broad shift in both the tactics and strategy of the gun lobby writ large, including a growing emphasis on policy skirmishes outside the Beltway. Since just 2003, the National Rifle Association has poured $2.5 million into the coffers of state candidates, according to the non-partisan National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Meanwhile, scores of new grassroots gun groups have cropped up in recent years, making a mark with their political activism and assertive tactics.
Borrowing organizing and advocacy techniques from the civil rights movement, these activists are casting gun owners as victims, denied the right to defend themselves and their families against violence, even as the parameters of that right under the Second Amendment remain far from clear under current Supreme Court precedents.
At the same time, a nationwide decline in violent crime over the last two decades has left anti-gun groups on the defensive. Even a growing number of Democrats who previously supported some gun control measures have found little downside from voting with the gun lobby.
The parade of new laws, though, is creating fresh issues and quandaries for private employers, restaurants, churches and other institutions. The laws are also prompting debate about the cultural shift that comes with growing acceptance of guns in daily life and society.
“Permissive concealed carry laws violate our shared expectations that public places will be safe environments where we can be free from guns and gun violence,” the Legal Community Against Violence says. “Instead, they subject all of us to the cynical worldview of a frightened few, a view that says a person can’t be safe in public without a loaded handgun at his or her disposal.”
For gun owners, however, riding the support of a new generation of Republican-controlled legislatures, the changes represent some long-delayed recognition of their rights to self defense under the Second Amendment.
Beyond ideology, gun rights groups say, recession-driven cutbacks in state and local law enforcement budgets have made these rights even more important.
“Probably now more than ever,” John Hohenwarter, the NRA lobbyist for Ohio told iWatch News, “people need the ability to defend themselves.”
Bar fight – round one
When the 129th Ohio General Assembly convened in January, Republicans, with a commanding new majority, wasted little time in forging an aggressive new conservative agenda.
Heading the list: legislation that would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring hidden loaded handguns into restaurants that serve alcohol.
Ever since the state passed its concealed carry law in 2004, it had been legal to bring a weapon into a McDonald’s — but not a restaurant or bar that provided alcohol. Gun rights activists said there was no reason they should have to check their rights to self defense at the door of an establishment just because it had a liquor license.
Locked in cars, guns become targets for thieves, not to mention inaccessible to protect rightful owners and their families in the walk to and from restaurants on dark city streets.
There were built-in safeguards: the law stipulated that gun owners could not consume alcoholic beverages. Establishments would still have the option of keeping patrons with loaded guns out.
The gun legislation was dubbed “the Applebee’s bill.”
“We are making one less victim zone in Ohio,” Dr. Terry Johnson, a Republican state representative and co-sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor in May just before the legislation was put to a final vote. “Right now, a bad guy knows that is a place where law-abiding citizens will not carry a firearm.”
The lawmakers had already heard in committee from gun lobby witnesses who saw loved ones gunned down in bars or restaurants because of ineffectual and restrictive laws.
Johnson, an Army National Guard doctor who served two tours in Iraq, called the legislation “commonsensical.”
Some of his colleagues, though, were not so sure. The legislation drew no distinction between restaurants and bars, meaning guns would be permitted not just at the state’s finer restaurants, but also in its dankest, darkest roadhouses. The ban on drinking and carrying would still apply in bars, but the critics wondered: Why invite trouble?
The state restaurant and bartender associations opposed the measure. So did the state’s major law enforcement groups.
Even some Republicans expressed grave doubts, saying the law would put otherwise law-abiding citizens in an inherently dangerous environment.
Tavern owners didn’t need the trouble.
“These are the guys with baseball bats behind the bars, with the sheriff on speed dial,” said Republican Todd McKenney who represents a district near Akron. “We are not making it safer” by adding guns to the mix.
But the elephant in the room was the Buckeye Firearms Association, a local gun rights group, which had circulated a plainly worded letter to members about the legislation, saying it would hold any opponents accountable next November. The group had already targeted one lawmaker for his committee vote by taking out newspaper ads saying he had lied to the group in order to win an endorsement.
Democrat Mark Okey of Canton decried Buckeye Firearms’ “political hits” and intimidation, and urged his fellow lawmakers not to succumb to the pressures.
“This is our house,” he said in an emotional plea. “We have a right to defend it.” He announcesd his intention to vote against the bill, declaring, “Buckeye Firearms, you don’t own my vote.”
McKenney, an NRA member, acknowledged he was inviting trouble for himself by opposing the legislation. “They don’t agree with my view. They said they will be sure to point this out at the next election. Of course they will. They could have saved their postage,” he said.
But McKenney and Okey and their allies were embracing a losing cause; the skeptics were mocked as thin-skinned.
“Let’s talk about where the real courage is here,” said Republican Robert Mecklenborg. “We hear a lot of talk about, ‘Well, gee, it takes courage to vote against these special interest groups.’ I would submit it takes quite a bit of courage to support the Constitution —even when the police chiefs’ association says, ‘Don’t do that.’”
Just before the vote, Republican Danny Bubp, one of the bill’s sponsors, a crew cut former Marine Colonel who was the go-to man in the assembly for the gun lobby, had the final say about the legislation, House Bill 45.
“When I went to Officer Candidate School in 1976 with the Marine Corps the first weapon that they introduced me to there was a .45 caliber Colt. I carried that weapon for over 20 years,” he said. “HB 45 … It just has a great ring.”
His colleagues apparently agreed. The billed passed the House by a vote of 56-39, and the Senate, 25-7; Gov. John Kasich signed it into law June 30.
If they seemed impatient, the frustration of Ohio gun-rights supporters was in a way understandable.
Over the years, rules governing the availability of concealed weapons permits have radically changed. In 1981, most states either prohibited private citizens from carrying concealed weapons or gave issuing agencies — police departments, mostly — wide discretion in deciding who should receive them. Today, 49 states issue permits, and most applicants qualify automatically once they meet certain minimum criteria. The lone holdout is Illinois, and its prohibition is being attacked in court.
In Ohio, the gun lobby had tried for a dozen years to enact such a law. It was repeatedly rebuffed in the 1990s because of opposition from moderate Republican Gov. George Voinovich, a former mayor of Cleveland. His successor, Robert Taft III, also a GOP moderate, did not make the issue a priority.
Opponents exploited divisiveness in the gun rights camp: the state’s main gun group at the time wanted a system without any permitting requirements, and showed little interest in anything less. Concerns about urban violence seemed to take precedence over the rights of gun owners hailing from rural parts.
Starting in 1999, a new group, Ohioans for Concealed Carry, decided to take a different tack. It found a police chief in suburban Gahanna, Ohio, who supported the idea of concealed carry, in sharp contrast with the party line espoused by state law enforcement organizations. The group also adopted a more conciliatory tone in negotiating a bill, giving it added credibility. “We were seen as the reasonable gun guys,” says Jeff Garvas, 36, the group’s founder and chairman, who by day is an IT professional at a local communications firm.
Taft eventually signed a concealed-carry bill into law in January 2004, with some conditions. The new law gave permit holders the right to carry a loaded handgun in their cars, but only if it were holstered or kept in a locked glove box or compartment.
Like most states, Ohio put the names of permit holders off limits to the general public, although Taft insisted on a provision making that information available to journalists.
Investigations of concealed permit holders in Texas and Florida had turned up hundreds of people with criminal backgrounds who were nonetheless receiving concealed carry licenses. The media access, Taft said at the time, was “so we can ensure that the right people are getting permits and that the wrong people aren’t.”
To gun control groups, the moves were straightforward safety and oversight measures.
Gun groups saw the rules for guns in cars as traps for the unwary and the media access as dangerous. But they backed the legislation as a first step. And they set their sights on coming back for more expansive protections later.
A well-organized militia
James Irvine, the chairman of Buckeye Firearms, says his message for lawmakers in Ohio and their party bosses is simple: “If you cross us, we are going to hit back,” he says in an interview. “Know it is coming.”
He backs it up with a little money and a lot of motivated volunteers on the ground, including experts on the Internet, who adroitly leverage technology as an organizing and advocacy tool to rally support for both legislation and preferred candidates.
Besides Irvine, a commercial airline pilot, the leadership includes a lawyer who is an NRA firearms instructor, and a pre-owned car dealer who is the main blogger and opinion leader on the Buckeye web site. They all were originally part of Garvas’ group but split in 2006 over what the two sides call strategic differences.
Buckeye has its own PAC, and while its war chest is modest — about $54,000 right now, Irvine says — its giving is carefully targeted. Among the beneficiaries: the current Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, the Secretary of State, the chair of the Ohio Republican Party, and the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Members — 33,500 people subscribe to its weekly newsletter — are encouraged to take advantage of an Ohio law that gives a tax credit ($50 for a single person, $100 for a couple) for contributions to state legislative campaigns.
More important: delivering support on the ground to favored candidates. In 2010, Irvine stumped for the incumbent governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, riding around rural Ohio in an RV, dubbed “Sportsmen for Strickland,” which was decorated with a camouflage paint job and endorsements from the NRA and other pro-gun groups. The NRA gave $2,500 to Strickland, and spent another $26,000 in independent expenditures promoting his election. Buckeye Firearms gave Strickland $1,000.
Strickland, long a gun-rights proponent, had earned the NRA’s highest candidate rating. The credentials of his Republican opponent, John Kasich, were suspect ever since he voted for a national ban on assault weapons while a member of Congress in the mid-1990s.
“It ticked off a lot of my Republican friends,” Irvine says. “People would ask, ‘Can we really trust a Democrat on the gun issue?’ My answer was, ‘I am a Republican. I am riding around with him. If that is the case — we can absolutely trust him.’ ” Kasich won but it remains to be seen whether the gun lobby will rally around him.
The Buckeye web site – Irvine says it generates about 375,000 page views a month — features pointed commentary, analysis, legislative updates, and tools, such as a downloadable 38-page “Grassroots Action Guide,” including tips on how to be an effective pro-gun volunteer and insights into “how the anti-gun mind works.”
It also has an online messaging system that allows members to instantly contact legislators in Columbus. What it calls a social-media “strike force” to get subscribers to link items of interest to their personal Web pages or other media is generating tens of thousands of new hits.
An occasional web series titled “the Idiot Chronicles” brings new insights on anti-gun lawmakers and other adversaries. A favorite target: Toby Hoover, the long-time head of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, the state’s largest gun-control group. Among other things, Buckeye has revealed ties between Hoover and the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, which has made more than $400,000 in grants to the Ohio watchdog. (The Center for Public Integrity has also been a Joyce grantee.)
“[Buckeye Firearms] has become a leader of leaders of the grassroots groups … a model that people are emulating and copying,” says Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which named Buckeye its organization of the year in 2011.
Matt Westerhold was not the first reporter to run afoul of Irvine’s group. But he says he personally will never make that mistake again.
In July 2004, three months after concealed carry became legal, newspapers in Ohio began publishing the names and ages of people who had applied for and obtained permits.
Editors argued that since other public safety information was available to the public — such as whether your neighbor was a sex offender or ex-con — people licensed to possess hidden loaded weapons should not get a pass.
For gun groups, though, the decision to publish this data was a serious act of betrayal. The legislature never intended to allow for wholesale publication of lists of the permit holders, they said. Rather, the idea was to allow journalists to determine whether specific individuals — someone with a criminal record, for instance — had a gun permit. Publishing the information, they said, gave gun thieves a road map, violated the privacy of permit holders, and discouraged citizens from getting permits.
James Aslanides, a former Republican House member who was the lead sponsor of the original 2004 concealed-carry bill, successfully rallied support for a legislative fix that continued to allow journalists to view the permits but prohibited them from taking notes or making photo copies.
Westerhold, the managing editor of the Sandusky Register, a 20,000 circulation daily, decided to engage.
He had been getting calls from readers wanting to know if their neighbors had guns. A local prosecutor had gone to court to suppress a request for the records from another publication. One day in June, 2007, Westerhold thought it was time to take a stand.
“We had the list…We had readers who had requested the information,” he recalls. “We decided to publish the list … as a public service.” The list, including the names and birthdates of some 2,500 permit holders, was published on the paper’s Web site. The response was immediate. “A firestorm,” he says.
Irate gun owners felt he had blown the cover of permit holders and put innocent lives at risk.
“I was getting phone calls from all over the country, hundreds of phone calls,” he says, including 250 calls just from readers within his paper’s circulation area. Some he considered personally threatening.
“There were so many nut jobs. There were so many threats that said, ‘I am going to kill you’ …. ‘You should die slowly’… probably dozens of emails and phone calls,” he says.
“And then, Buckeye Firearms got involved,” he says, “in a very pro-active way.”
The group searched the public record and posted on its Web site Westerhold’s phone numbers, auto records, traffic citations, a partial Social Security number, a photo of his home, and details about his divorce and ex-wife.
His daughter, then 12, even got pulled into the fray. Buckeye published a kind of road map on how one might obtain information about the public school she attended and the bus she took there. The group noted that a photo of the girl from her school yearbook could probably be found in the reference section of the local library.
“I never experienced anything like that in my life,” Westerhold says.
“Everything was fair game,” he says, until his daughter became an issue.
He says he consulted an attorney, and took the information to a local prosecutor, who found no grounds to take action.
Irvine said Buckeye Firearms did not publish the information about Westerhold to be vindictive, but wanted to show the editor the downside and destructive impact of publishing information just because it was publicly available. “We could have gotten way, way more personal,” he said.
The blowback appeared to achieve its unstated aim.
“At that point, I went to a low profile,” Westerhold says. “We left the information on line but I have never sought to follow up or do anything with the list.”
“We had a Democratic governor and a state chairman of the Democratic Party who absolutely sold out the issue completely,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why should I fight this fight?’”
Reload and repeal
After concealed-carry proponents broke through with successful legislation in 2004, other gun-related restrictions in Ohio started to fall like dominos.
That the law had been on the books without the explosion in violence that some critics predicted also helped energize the cause.
In 2006, the legislature passed a sweeping “preemption” bill over the veto pen of Taft, joining more than 40 states that prohibit cities and counties from enacting their own firearm ordinances. The Ohio law also gave private gun groups the right to sue municipalities that were not in compliance with the law — and to require them to pay the gun groups’ legal bills if they lost. The so-called fee-shifting statute put gun groups in some exclusive company: only one other Ohio law — covering access to public records — is believed to provide such a benefit.
In 2008, lawmakers gave homeowners and motorists new rights to use deadly force against burglars and other assailants. In the past, such persons were often prosecuted, and had to establish in court that they acted in self-defense. Under the change, which has been adopted by about 20 other states, they now avoid prosecution so long as they can show that they were in danger of death or serious bodily harm. The measure also granted qualifying shooters immunity from civil suits.
By tackling the legal restrictions on guns piecemeal, gun rights groups found that it became more and more difficult for gun-control groups to persuade lawmakers that any single measure would be catastrophic.
“By passing it incrementally,” said Tom Smith, lobbyist for the Ohio Council of Churches and an opponent of expanded gun laws, “people got used to it.”
Prospects were further buoyed by the 2006 election of Strickland. The 2008 legislation included 10 provisions that eased restrictions on guns or made it easier to obtain a concealed-carry permit.
As part of that 2008 measure, for instance, a law making it a crime to have a concealed gun in a privately owned parking garage was repealed. Parents were allowed to possess a gun while picking up and dropping off their kids in a school zone. Landlords were prohibited from disallowing gun ownership by their tenants.
Barriers to obtaining a concealed carry permit were lowered. The requirement of a written test to renew a license was eliminated — as was the requirement of U.S. citizenship. A measure prohibiting applicants with a sealed or expunged criminal record from having a permit was also repealed.
Limits on having loaded handguns in cars were eased and eventually eliminated. People previously convicted of violating any of the guns-in-cars’ rules were given a chance to have their records scrubbed clean.
Gun groups saw the restrictions as entrapping unwary and innocent gun owners in technical violations of the law.
Law enforcement groups, which had opposed concealed-carry, fought for the limits on loaded guns in cars, concerned that giving drivers’ ready access to guns posed a safety risk to officers during traffic stops. But there was no stopping the momentum.
“Once they got their foot in the door, they came back every session and watered it down,” laments Mark Drum, a lobbyist for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.
The scuttling of municipal gun ordinances under the 2006 law and the prospect of awards of attorney fees for suing cities refusing to abide by the law gave gun groups a kind of license to sue.
In 2004, the NRA helped bankroll a lawsuit by Ohioans for Concealed Carry against the city of Clyde, Ohio, population 6,000, which had banned guns in city parks in response to the newly passed concealed-carry law. The suit became a test case of the home rule powers of municipalities under the Ohio constitution — and the double-barreled approach of the gun groups prevailed when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Clyde’s law was invalid.
Garvas’ group won $8,500 in an out-of-court settlement with the city of Campbell, Ohio, outside Youngstown, over a 2010 ordinance prohibiting firearm sales within city limits, which the city repealed.
In August 2011, the group sued the city of Cleveland Heights for refusing to repeal a series of gun laws dating to 1985, throwing a hot dogs and guns picnic in a city park to draw attention to the issue.
City officials said they had not been enforcing the ordinances since the court decisions upholding the right of the state to preempt the local laws. But they took steps to formally repeal the ordinances after the suit was filed.
Ohioans for Concealed Carry is continuing to press the court to give it credit for the decision and be awarded attorney fees. The city is opposing the request. “All they did was file a canned complaint,” says John Gibbon, the city law director.
More guns, more crime?
The impact of all this maneuvering on crime and public safety is, at best, inconclusive.
From the beginning, a belief that concealed-carry laws lead to less violent crime has driven the movement, although the evidence is debatable.
A 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime, purported to find a statistical link between concealed carry laws and declines in violent crime in states adopting them. Its author, John R. Lott, an economist and visiting professor at several universities including the University of Chicago, was widely celebrated as concealed carry’s leading intellectual.
But his work has been disputed by several other academics who believe other factors, such as sentencing laws and the number of police officers on the street are more important determinants of crime.
Using Lott’s model, John Donohue, an economist and lawyer at Stanford Law School, found that more guns may actually increase certain kinds of violent crime, though even Donohue concedes that concealed carry laws have not led to the bloodbath some of its opponents once feared.
A 2004 review of various studies, including Lott’s, by the National Research Council found “no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime.”
Violent crime in Ohio actually increased for two years after concealed carry was adopted in 2004. The increase was striking because crime had steadily declined in the decade preceding enactment. Proponents ascribe the increase to rising gang and drug-related violence, rather than to the new law.
Absent hard proof, both sides have poured out anecdotal evidence to bolster their respective cases.
At least three people with concealed carry permits have faced criminal charges for using their guns to kill people since the law went into effect.
In 2007, a Cincinnati woman with a concealed carry permit shot and killed a panhandler after he asked her for 25 cents at a gas station. She got nine years in prison.
A Twinsburg, Ohio, police officer was shot and killed in 2008 by a concealed carry permit holder after pulling him over on suspicion of drunken driving. His assailant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Concealed carry proponents say there are even more examples of citizens using their guns to prevent crime or to defend themselves or loved ones from harm.
On its Web site, Buckeye Firearms cites the case of a 70-year-old great-grandma with a permit who pulled a .357 Magnum from her purse and shot and killed an armed robber who burst into a hotel room in Columbus in 2009 where she was staying with family members.
Even when justified, however, the use of force can leave otherwise law-abiding citizens with powerfully ambivalent feelings.
When somebody drove off with his car while it was idling outside his Cincinnati home one morning in 2006, Bennie Hall grabbed his .45 and sprang into action.
He ran into the street and saw his Taurus turning around at the end of the block a few houses away. He said he thought the car would stop when the driver saw him in the street. He fired three times. The driver was killed by a shot to the chest.
Hamilton County prosecutors said the homeowner had a right to defend himself because he thought he was going to be hit. No charges were brought.
The thief turned out to be 14 years old.
“If I had known he was a child I would have taken the hit,” Hall told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I would have laid down and not fired the gun.”
Bar fight — final round
If Ohio’s legislators had any doubts on how to vote on this year’s bill allowing concealed weapons in bars, there was always the case of Matt Lundy to consider.
Lundy, a Democratic House member representing Lorain County near Cleveland, had voted for other gun-friendly measures, but decided he could not support guns in bars. He thought the idea was absurd and was troubled that law enforcement opposed it. “Is there any guarantee that the bullets always hit the bad guys?” he asked during a committee hearing.
To Buckeye Firearms, however, Lundy had suddenly become a turncoat. Two weeks before the House vote, it blasted him with a media barrage, pegged to a 2010 candidate questionnaire in which he indicated support for allowing guns in restaurants and other locations that serve liquor.
Buckeye Firearms issued a press release to hundreds of news outlets in Ohio, emailed thousands of pro-gun voters, and shared its viewpoint in a newspaper advertisement headlined “Matt Lundy LIED!” The ad appeared in two newspapers that covered his district, both of which published stories about the flap, one accusing him in an editorial of “weaseling.”
“[Buckeye Firearms] wanted to intimidate members who might have been on the fence,” Lundy says in an interview. He said the message seemed to be: “We are going to throw you under the bus and make sure the tire hits you on the way through.”
What influence the shot across the bow had on the vote was unclear. But the final tally was overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation. Lundy indeed voted no. Kasich signed the bill at a ceremony attended by gun lobbyists, including several Buckeye Firearms representatives. Bubp was honored by Ohioans for Concealed Carry for his work on the bill.
As for Lundy, he now finds the whole episode a little baffling. “I don’t think you can effectively be a legislator if you agree with someone 100 percent of the time,” he says. “I was disappointed how you can go from being someone who is well-liked to being totally hated.”
Irvine said Buckeye has not decided whether it will campaign against Lundy when he is up for reelection next year. That will depend on the record of his opponent. “We will send him a survey and see how he responds,” Irvine says. “But … he has lost some trust.”
What the future holds for guns, bars and restaurants is far from clear. About two dozen states have laws that allow guns in bars that serve at least some food. Only a handful of states, now including Ohio, allow guns in bars regardless of whether food is sold.
Tennessee, home to one of the witnesses who testified in Ohio about losing loved ones in bars because of restrictive gun laws, passed a law in 2009 similar to the one that Ohio enacted. But it also allowed bars to opt out of letting gun owners in the door. The bar where one witness lost her husband reportedly decided to keep guns out.
Whether concealed-carry permit holders will be as responsible as their handlers suggest is also unclear. It has been a rough few months for some of the legislative champions of the laws.
A Tennessee state representative who was the lead sponsor of the bar law in that state was arrested in October on charges of drunken driving and possessing a loaded handgun while under the influence.
The month after Kasich signed the guns-in-bars bill in Ohio, three lawmakers who voted for the legislation became entangled in alcohol-related incidents. Two had concealed-carry permits. One resigned under pressure from the Republican leadership.
The departed included Mecklenborg who was arrested for DUI in Indiana with a 26-year-old woman who reportedly worked at a strip club. The lawmaker failed a field sobriety test; a later blood test showed that he was legally intoxicated. The married father of three, and concealed-carry permit holder, announced his resignation July 17.
“Is that a good example of someone I should trust carrying a weapon in public?” says Hoover, of the gun-violence group.
Some people around the capital are still scratching their heads. One critic, Michael Coleman, the mayor of Columbus, has suggested that the legislature “should do unto themselves what they intend to do to us” and follow Wisconsin’s example in allowing guns in the State Capitol building.
Some restaurant and bar owners fret about getting sued if they serve someone who is packing. “Is there going to be a pat down? Do we have to ask every guest before we serve them a glass of wine?” says Michael Singer, who manages Barcelona Restaurant & Bar in Columbus. “Who carries the liability?”
Since Ohio’s law went into effect on Sept. 30, even one Applebee’s has decided to take advantage of an option in the law that allows establishments to post signs and keep people with hidden weapons out. (Most other restaurants in the chain appear to be welcoming patrons with guns.)
And on Oct. 11, permit-holder Chad O’Reilly, 25, was arrested for threatening to kill a fellow bar patron in Deer Park, Ohio, near Cincinnati.
Police said O’Reilly got into a heated argument with another man at the H&H Tavern, walked out of the bar and returned with a .40 caliber semiautomatic Glock pistol. According to the arrest report, obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer, O’Reilly shouted a racial slur at the man, who is Hispanic, and said, “I’m going to kill you.”
Deer Park police said O’Reilly’s friends ushered him out of the bar and police arrested him at gunpoint a few minutes later, according to the newspaper. He did not resist and no one was hurt.
O’Reilly, who police said had been drinking, was charged with aggravated menacing, ethnic intimidation, possession of a controlled substance (injectable testosterone) and illegal possession of a firearm in a liquor establishment, according to the Enquirer. He faces up to five years in jail if he is convicted of violating the new gun law.
The gun lobby said the incident showed how the new law was working.
“The law has been tested and it passed the test,” Buckeye Firearms editorialized. “An apparent crime was detected, law enforcement were called, no one was hurt, and the accused is facing serious felony charges.”
Help support this work
Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.