The state’s provocatively-named “Guns Everywhere” proposal could mean some big changes — and concerns — here in Amherst.
House Bill 48 would allow concealed firearms to be carried inside daycare centers, police stations, many government buildings, and school safety zones. The bill previously included churches but that language has been removed.
Outside Amherst, it would widen concealed carry to colleges, airports, and aircraft.
The measure has already been passed by the Ohio House of Representatives and is now under consideration by the Senate.
Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek said he isn’t opposed to concealed carry, but does have reservations about allowing firearms in certain areas.
For example, he is wary of allowing guns to be carried along Washington Street where both Steele High School and Powers Elementary are located. Kucirek said he would like to see state law include a clearly-defined gun-free radius around schools that would include sidewalks and the public right-of-ways, not just school grounds.
“I understand there are people, there are demonstrators, who want to make a point about their rights when it comes to the Second Amendment, but in front of a school is not a place I want to see it,” he said.
The chief also pointed to a state law that places restrictions on even highly-trained retired police officers who carry weapons — restrictions that are more stringent than those suggested for the public under HB48.
Kucirek raised the issue of HB48 at a Feb. 21 meeting of the Lorain County Chiefs Law Enforcement Association.
While the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association are among the high-profile groups that oppose HB48, local law enforcement has not taken any stance on the topic, he said.
His personal opinion, however, is that allowing concealed carry in previously secure areas should also mean increased training.
Permit-holders should have to demonstrate proficiency with the weapon they carry, he said. If they carry a .57 Magnum, they should not be allowed to take classes with a .22 pistol.
“In times of crisis, people don’t rise to their expectations but they fall back to the level of their training,” Kucirek said.
Two years ago, Amherst did roll back concealed carry restrictions at public parks. That decision came on the heels of a lawsuit by a gun rights group called Ohioans for Concealed Carry against Oberlin for prohibiting firearms in recreational areas.
Now Oberlin leaders are gearing up to vote on a resolution opposing expansion of statewide concealed carry rights.
“We believe we have a right to define the tenor of our community” and more guns aren’t desirable, said Oberlin city council vice president Linda Slocum during a public meeting Feb. 19 with Ohio Sen. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville).
Amherst city council has taken no such steps with regard to HB48. Nor has Amherst law director Tony Pecora weighed in with his opinion on the proposed new law.
Many others have, however.
A delegation from Ohioans for Safe Communities, a gun violence prevention non-profit, asked Manning to consider opposing concealed carry expansion.
OSC spokesman David Eggert told Manning the group wanted her help as a Republican in the Senate who has a balanced view.
He lamented efforts in recent years to relax concealed carry restrictions, including allowing weapons in bars (provided the permit-holder does not drink) and reducing the number of training hours required to get a permit from 12 to eight.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio also lodged a protest against the bill last June in testimony before the House’s State Government Committee.
“The LWVO believes that the proliferation of handguns in the additional places identified in HB48 increases the chance for deadly mishap or escalated violence,” spokeswoman Rosie Craig said. “This bill is part of a wider movement to continually weaken the original CCW statute, which LWVO opposed in 2004.”
Mary Kirtz Van Nortwick, co-president of the LWVO, echoed that sentiment to Manning, saying gun laws need to do more to protect those who do not carry firearms.
John Elder, former pastor of First Church in Oberlin, also voiced discontent over HB48. He said gun owners have persuaded themselves the world is such a dangerous place that their lives are at risk if they don’t have a firearm at hand.
Others have fashioned themselves as “saviors in waiting” to protect the unarmed, said Elder, but pose a real danger of friendly fire if they decide to start shooting.
Manning for the most part listened and did not offer her thoughts on the bill. She said she wants her vote to reflect the will of her district.
Emotion did creep into the discussion, however, as anti-gun passions were met with vigorous pro-gun defense from Manning’s staff.
Manning said she has twice taken a concealed carry class but opted not to get a permit.
She related a story about a sheriff who led a concealed carry course and shared his opinion: that those with firearms permits have been trained and subjected to background checks, and that no instances of gun violence have been committed by concealed carry permit-holders.
Should HB48 pass, some places of business, private institutions, and government offices would likely still be able to bar concealed carry locally.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Ohio Sen. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) speaks Feb. 19 at the Oberlin Public Library. The most controversial topic was proposed changes to the state’s concealed carry law.