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Ohio Ban on Concealed Guns Voided

April 11, 2002|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CINCINNATI — A state appeals court Wednesday declared Ohio's ban on concealed weapons unconstitutional--delighting gun-rights advocates who are pushing hard to get citizens in all 50 states the right to carry hidden firearms.

Just six states, all in the Midwest, block citizens from walking or driving the streets with loaded guns tucked out of sight. Ohio has long been one of them.

But a three-judge panel from the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the ban violated the first article of the state Constitution, which says that "the people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security."

Presiding Judge Mark P. Painter read aloud that line from the state's founding fathers, then added: "We believe they meant what they said."

The decision applies only to the court's jurisdiction of southwest Ohio, including Cincinnati. An appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is certain.

Still, advocates of concealed weapons counted the ruling as a major victory. And they predicted it would help sway sentiment in their favor elsewhere across the nation.

"It's a great day," said Dave LaCourse, a spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun-rights lobbying group that funded the challenge to Ohio's law. "We've created a blueprint for potential lawsuits in other states."

California, he said, was among the likely targets.

California law allows citizens to obtain a concealed gun permit if they can convince their local sheriff or police chief that they need one.

Los Angeles a Tough City to Get a Permit

Local authorities have complete discretion, so standards vary widely. The city of Los Angeles has long been considered one of the toughest jurisdictions; from the late 1970s though the early 1990s, the city went 17 years without issuing a permit.

The Second Amendment Foundation is considering suing on the grounds that the uneven permit process violates guarantees of due process and equal protection in California.

Other key targets for gun-rights advocates are the Midwest states--Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio--that ban concealed weapons. Several have become political battlegrounds this year, as gun-rights groups attempt to capitalize on a new public interest in self-defense they see emerging since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The numbers may not bear out the perception of a society increasingly drawn to guns. Despite a strong spike in September and October, the FBI did fewer background checks on citizens purchasing handguns in 2001 than in 2000. The pace is even slower this year.

Nonetheless, National Rifle Assn. spokesman Andrew Arulanandam says "we're hearing that people are interested more than ever in personal protection, so we see a need for state legislation to address that."

Thus, a fierce debate about easing the concealed-carry ban was already underway in Ohio before Wednesday's ruling. Missouri and Illinois lawmakers are grappling with the issue as well.

A bill to allow hidden guns made it through Wisconsin's House earlier this year before Democrats blocked it in the Senate. A Nebraska state senator vows to push a similar bill in his statehouse next year. In Colorado, meanwhile, lawmakers are weighing a proposal to make it easier for citizens to get concealed-carry permits.

"The gun lobby, like partisan politicians, see the Midwest as a key battleground," said Mark Pertschuk, who fights for gun control as the legislative director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

"They're trying everything possible and if that doesn't work, they come back and try again," Pertschuk said. "They're relentless."

Indeed, gun-rights advocates say they are approaching the Midwest fights this year with a refined strategy. They are more willing than in the past to compromise with gun-control advocates--to accept restrictions on who can get a permit, on what kind of training will be required and on where a concealed weapon can be carried.

In Missouri, instead of pushing for a comprehensive concealed carry bill, gun-rights activists are trying to win the more limited right for citizens to carry loaded guns under their seats or in their glove compartment as they drive through the state.

The goal, they say, is to get some laws on the books--with the expectation that they can return in a year or two and lobby for easing the restrictions.

"You've got to get your foot in the door," explained Rick Salyer, a National Guardsman active in the gun-rights movement in Missouri. "Then you can open the door a little more, then a little more. And pretty soon you've got your freedom back."

The tactic is drawn from experience: In Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and elsewhere, concealed-carry laws passed years ago after tight restrictions were imposed to appease opponents "who made dire predictions that fender-benders would lead to blood in the gutters," said Joe Waldron, director of the Citizens Committee to Keep and Bear Arms, a lobbying group.

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