A History of Ohio’s Concealed Carry Laws
by Mark Luedtke
In 1987, gun owners in Florida shocked the nation by pushing through a statewide shall-issue — meaning officials can’t deny a permit for arbitrary reasons — concealed carry law. Critics claimed this would transform Florida into killing fields. Proponents claimed it would lead to dramatic reductions in violent crime. The proponents were right. According to the Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition, “Since adopting CCW (1987), Florida’s homicide rate has fallen 21% while the U.S. rate has risen 12%. From start-up 10/1/87 – 2/28/94 (over 6 years) Florida issued 204,108 permits; only 17 (0.008%) were revoked because permit-holders later committed crimes (not necessarily violent) in which guns were present (not necessarily used).” Because the personal and social benefits from allowing concealed carry were so profound, by 1998, 43 states allowed some form of concealed carry. Ohio was not one of them.
Then in May of 1999, Cincinnati pizza deliveryman Pat Feely was arrested for carrying a handgun in his belt during a late night delivery. The fugitive slave era law, still on the books at that time, required defendants to present an active defense to prove they needed to carry a concealed weapon for defense purposes. Feely did so and was acquitted in May 2000. According to The Gottlieb-Tartaro Report, “Both the judge and the prosecutor said the law should be changed or repealed,” but Governor Taft threatened to veto any concealed carry bill unless it was supported by law enforcement groups.
Former police officer and then private detective Chuck Klein hoped to use the Feely case to change the law, but Feely changed jobs, losing his legal justification for carrying concealed. So Klein assembled Feely’s boss, James Cohen, hairdresser Vernon Ferrier and personal trainer Lea Ann Driscoll, and filed suit against the state. They employed Feely’s lawyer Tim Smith and obtained funding from the Second Amendment Foundation.
After two lower courts ruled in favor of Klein and company, Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis and the state of Ohio appealed the case to the Ohio Supreme Court, which heard arguments in April of 2003. Because of Ohio’s prominence, supporters and opponents of concealed carry nationwide got involved. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “The Ohio Supreme Court — which will hear oral arguments in the Hamilton County case this morning — has received friend-of-the-court briefs from no fewer than 30 groups and individuals. Among them: the National Rifle Association, the Washington-based Violence Prevention Center, Ohio cities and counties, even an interest group for private detectives. All see the case as a key turning point in the political tussle over guns, not only in Ohio but for the entire country.”
The state of Ohio referred to a 1920 Ohio Supreme Court case on the same law in which the Court determined the ban “does not operate as a prohibition against carrying weapons, but as a regulation of the manner of carrying them. The gist of the offense is concealment.” The Columbus Dispatch reported on the argument for overturning the ban, “Opponents of the 83-year-old prohibition say the law is unconstitutionally vague and is even applied to persons openly carrying guns. They cited testimony from police officers who said they are confused about when it is legal to carry a handgun in Ohio.”
In September 2003, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the concealed carry ban. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on the decision, “The problem, critics say, is that this ‘affirmative defense’ clause requires people to first get arrested for breaking the law before they can go to court to prove why they did nothing wrong.”
But the Court opened the door for concealed carry activists’ next step by affirming the people’s right to carry firearms openly, so that’s what supporters of concealed carry did. Immediately after the decision, they organized defense walks all over the state in which firearm owners marched openly displaying their firearms. This political pressure finally broke the logjam in Columbus. Gov. Taft finally got the message and arranged a compromise that enabled the Ohio’s shall-issue concealed carry law to pass on Jan 8, 2004. Officials began issuing concealed carry permits on April 8, 2004. Since the Ohio bill passed, every state in the union has passed some sort of concealed carry law except Illinois. Ohio currently has reciprocity agreements with 23 other states.
But gun owner activists didn’t stop with concealed carry. In 2006 they passed a preemption law that prevents local governments from restricting concealed carry. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld that preemption law 5-2 in 2010, overturning restrictions in Cleveland. Cleveland.com reports, “The 13-page decision written by Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton supports the rationale of lawmakers that the statewide gun law was needed in 2006 to keep gun owners from being at the mercy of ‘a confusing patchwork’ of licensing requirements and possession restrictions.” In 2011 the state legalized carrying firearms in bars.
The battle over firearm freedom continues. Concealed carry is still banned on college campuses in Ohio. Buckeyes for Concealed Carry recently protested this law by displaying empty holsters at a Trayvon Martin vigil at Ohio State University. University police drew their weapons on and arrested organization president Mike Newbern even though he was breaking no law and carrying no weapon. Some policemen are still confused about the law.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.