State Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Eliminate “Gun-Free” Zones

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COLUMBUS, OHIO — Ohio law currently prohibits concealed carry permit owners from carrying their weapons into public or private spaces that are clearly designated with signs saying guns are not allowed on the premises. But a new bill under consideration at the Statehouse would change that.

Gun-free zones are often confusing for concealed carry permit holders, according to Republican State Rep. John Becker, and that’s why he said his bill is needed.

John Becker (Photo courtesy of State of Ohio, Ohio Public TV)
John Becker (Photo courtesy of State of Ohio, Ohio Public TV)

“It simply says for those people who have a concealed carry permit – which we know are the cream of the crop of the citizenry because they’ve had the background checks as well as training and gun safety and marksmanship – for people with those permits, if they were to inadvertently go into one of these gun-free zones, they could not be charged with a crime unless they refuse to leave.”

The bill would apply to public places –like the Statehouse for example– and private spaces –like a hardware store, restaurant or bar.

Opponents of the bill worry it will encourage people to violate the gun-free zones intentionally, going against the wishes of the property owner.

“Frankly, I’m ok with that,” Becker said. “And the reason is the people in those gun free zones are people with concealed carry permits and again, they are the cream of the crop of the citizenry. And it makes for a safer environment. We certainly see on a regular basis, and increasing basis, bad guys with guns going into these gun-free zones and there’s nobody there to stop them.”

And that leads to another part of Becker’s bill. It would remove immunity for business owners who don’t allow concealed carry if a shooting were to happen on their premises.

“We think this bill is just plain bizarre,” said Jennifer Thorne, the Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition against Gun Violence. “Suddenly, it’s a business owner’s fault if someone decides to target his or her business? I mean, when did it become OK to blame victims of crime?”

Her group also opposes the bill on the grounds that it tramples on the rights of business owners.

“To us this really seems like an attempt to bully business owners who want to support a culture of peace instead of fear by not allowing guns on their premises,” Thorne said. “And what we are looking at under this bill is something that would blame victims of crime.”

Becker’s bill will also be opposed by some of his fellow lawmakers, such as Democratic Rep. Greta Johnson.

“This is just sort of a half-baked solution looking for a problem,” she said. “It doesn’t address any gun issues that Ohio is currently facing and it’s going to do nothing but create confusion amongst lawful concealed carry permit holders, business owners and law enforcement.”

Johnson said she more than willing to sit down with Becker to talk about some problems that might exist with Ohio’s current concealed carry law.

Becker, meanwhile, said he expects some of his Republican colleagues will support his plan.

The bill has been introduced but hasn’t had hearings.

Lawmakers are not expected back until after the November election. And when they return, they are going to be holding some long debates during the lame duck session.

Because the Republican-dominated legislature has been interested in expanding the rights of gun owners, this bill could be on the agenda.