FILE - OH Statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow Ohioans to carry firearms without the need to obtain a concealed weapons license.

House Bill 178 would extend to Ohio residents who are at least 21 years old and federal law does not prohibit them from having a firearm. It does not apply to any so-called “restricted deadly weapon,” which includes various military-style arms.

The House Federalism Committee voted 7-4 in favor of the bill following a debate that was “very contentious” at times, state Rep. John Becker, the committee’s chairman, acknowledged before the vote. However, he noted, there was some consensus from the two sides.

“One of which is the second amendment. ... I didn’t hear anybody come in here and say nobody has the right to carry a gun,” Becker, R-Union Township, said. “The other point that I think everybody is in agreement on is gun safety.

“Everybody wants to be safe. Nobody wants bad guys to have guns. That’s something we all agree on,” he added. “Obviously we have some very stark disagreements on how to achieve public safety.”

The bill pits two vocal opponents against one another. While gun proponents applauded the plan, it has drawn the ire of many groups in Ohio who appeared before the committee to speak against it.

“Opponents say this bill will increase the number of people who can carry a concealed weapon,” Gary Witt, legislative coordinator for Ohioans For Concealed Carry, said in prepared testimony to the House Federalism Committee. “Could it be that people who don’t carry concealed weapons for the protection of themselves and their loved ones now will be in a better position to defend themselves and those loved ones once this bill passes?”

The proposal would exempt some from the change, including those facing a felony, negligent assault, falsifying a concealed weapons license or a misdemeanor offense involving drugs or violence. Financially speaking, eliminating the permit could cost the state an average of $2.8 million annually and local sheriffs statewide $4.9 million annually resulting from a loss of permit fees.

Before voting, lawmakers shot down an amendment to require gun dealers to pay for and distribute a pamphlet outlining Ohio’s gun laws for purchasers of guns.

“While the conversation on any issue concerning guns can get contentious, there must be some balance and logical discussion,” Tom Austin, executive director of the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in written testimony. “There is a difference between infringements on the Second Amendment and the legal restrictions states are permitted to enact.

“The current restrictions on gun ownership and possession are reasonable,” Austin said. “Background checks and safety training assure safe and legal concealed carry. This discussion is not anti-gun, but about what is reasonable. The current concealed carry law is not onerous and should remain as currently enacted.”

The bill heads to the House Criminal Justice Committee.

The Center Square Contributor