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April 8, 2012, marked the anniversary of a law that affects the lives of more than 270,000 Buckeyes.
Ohio’s concealed-handgun license law turned 8 years old on that Sunday afternoon.
Notably absent from the festivities were blood in the streets, Wild West reenactments and an epidemic of accidental gun injuries. To understand the significance of this event and why today it seems completely unremarkable, simply Google “Ohio concealed carry 2003” and prepare to be astonished.
• “The widespread carrying of concealed handguns, however, will result in far more cases of senseless killings that occur simply because a loaded gun was readily available.” — Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, March 4, 2003.
• “Imagine your child’s class is visiting the Statehouse on the same day a group known for violence is scheduled to attend in protest.” — State Highway Patrol, March 5, 2003.
• “If 200,000 to 300,000 citizens begin carrying a concealed weapon, common sense tells us that accidents will become a daily event.” — Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, March 5, 2003.
Eight years later, we know definitively that these dire warnings were groundless. Ohio was the 46th state to adopt licensed concealed carry, allowing residents to obtain a predetermination of their legal ability to carry a handgun without facing potential arrest and prosecution. This number has since increased to 49 states, with Illinois as the lone holdout.
Of these 49 states, several, including New York and California, have a license that is technically available. However, courtesy of “may issue” laws in these states, it is nearly impossible for mere mortals to meet the arbitrary, subjective standards to obtain a license. In these states, bureaucrats have absolute discretion over whether to issue a license. A federal court in Maryland recently struck down that state’s “may issue” law on the grounds that these government officials are given power to freely discriminate against applicants for any reason. Indeed, almost all gun-control laws have their roots in racial or ethnic discrimination. In the next year or two, it is entirely likely that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to decide that all “may issue” systems are constitutionally impermissible.
Despite more citizens than ever carrying a gun for self-defense, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics continue to show that accidental gun injuries are, if anything, decreasing. Further, “unjustified” shootings by licensees remain an extremely rare occurrence, and these occurrences are statistically insignificant, especially when compared to the instances of lawful self-defense use.
We now know that the burdensome restrictions contained in our original law had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with harassing those who would otherwise obtain the license. Originally, law enforcement insisted upon Ohio being the only state to micromanage how a licensee carried a handgun inside a vehicle. Ohio has since removed this micromanagement.
Ohio also originally forced licensees to disarm in order to use a bathroom in a park or highway rest stop, and this provision has similarly been removed. Similarly gone is the ability of Ohio’s newspapers to compile and publish lists of licensees.
Perhaps most important, it is now 100 percent clear that cities, villages and townships cannot interfere with the gun rights of Ohio residents. Gone forever is the impossible task of tracking and complying with a patchwork of 250-plus sets of gun laws across Ohio.
Ohio’s licensees are your neighbor, Little League coach, dentist, insurance agent and the person sitting next to you at dinner or church. Next time you see one, wish them happy birthday. Do not be surprised if they seem confused; like anyone else, they are probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
Ken Hanson is a Delaware attorney active in gun-rights legislation, litigation and lobbying.