OHIO — Last Wednesday, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 215. The legislation sets the stage for Ohio to become the 22nd state in the union to significantly ease regulations related to the concealed carry of a handgun.

As with legislation already in effect in the 21 other so-called Constitutional Carry states, SB 215 makes a concealed carry permit optional, eliminates required firearm training, shifts the duty to notify from the carrier to law enforcement, and reduces the penalty for failing to truthfully notify law enforcement when asked.

“What it’s going to do is allow Ohioans to carry and exercise their 2nd Amendment rights without the fear of violating state law,” said Ohio Senator Rob McColley (R-District 1), who, along with 12 other Republican state lawmakers, co-sponsored the bill introduced by Senator Terry Johnson (R-District 14). “I think context is very important in this instance, and that’s because Ohio is already an open carry state. If I wanted to carry with a gun and a holster on my waist that everyone could see, I could walk anywhere publicly that I wanted to. And I could do that under Ohio law right now. Now, if I throw on a sport coat or a winter jacket that covers up that holster, I would be violating current law in the State of Ohio. To me, I look at it as a distinction that is, in many ways, very minor.”

State Representative Jim Hoops (R-District 81) expressed support for SB 215, which will likely come before him and his colleagues some time in early 2022. Not surprising, as Ohio’s House of Representatives passed similar legislation, House Bill 227, in mid-November.

“This protects the person who is a non-criminal,” Hoops said. “This was a bill to try to help people protect themselves and their families.”

While the bill received overwhelming support from Republican senators — only one Republican, Jerry Cirino (R-District 18) broke ranks — the bill isn’t universally well received.

“I don’t like the way that Senate Bill is written,” Putnam County Sheriff Brian Siefker said. “I like the way the concealed carry is structured right now.”

Siefker’s attitude echoes the sentiment of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, which, as a group, has expressed its opposition to the bill. According to Van Wert Sheriff Tom Riggenbach, who chairs the BSSA’s Concealed Carry Committee, several issues were noted as areas of concern. Principal among them is the duty to notify.

“When we talk about SB 215, some of the things that were concerning deal with duty to notify law enforcement,” Riggenbach said. “Law enforcement thinks it’s extremely important that we have a duty to notify because of the officer safety component that is involved any time one of our people comes in contact with any person who is carrying a firearm. Law enforcement has to make split second decisions all the time, and the more information we can have up front allows us to process those decisions as quickly as possible. Being able to know that we’re interacting with somebody who would currently be a concealed carry license holder and that they’re carrying their firearm is certainly an important part of all the information our people process.”

Under current law, those with concealed carry permits who are stopped in their vehicles are required to promptly notify law enforcement when they are carrying their weapons. SB 215 shifts the burden from the permit carrier to law enforcement, who must ask if there is a weapon in the vehicle. The bill further reduces the penalty for failing to notify law enforcement from a first degree misdemeanor to a misdemeanor of the second degree. The bill initially proposed a minor misdemeanor penalty for failing to accurately answer an officer’s direct question, but was later upgraded when law enforcement officials and agencies expressed their concern.

“I think where we ended up on that as the bill passed is a thoughtful and balanced approach that matches with what is required in many other states,” McColley said. “I am also sensitive, though, to their issues.”

Training with firearms, though of lesser concern for BSSA’s Concealed Carry Committee, is also a bone of contention

“You have to have hands on training, you have to show you can effectively handle this weapon, and put rounds on target effectively,” Siefker said of Ohio’s current conceal carry permit program. “With this new bill, with no training, you’re basically saying anyone without a felony record can go out and just carry a handgun. Let’s face it, there are probably some people we really don’t wish would be out carrying a handgun.”

Both Riggenbach and Hoops expressed their faith that residents would simply do the right thing.

“It’s up to each individual to take responsibility for the decisions that they make,” Riggenbach said. “I believe the majority of people will take the right seriously and do what they need to do to prepare themselves, to understand what they’re required to do while they’re exercising their Second Amendment right.”

“I would hope that if people buy a gun, that they’re going to receive some kind of training,” Hoops offered. “I’m just basing this on that it’s someone who’s law abiding, and somebody who understands what they have in their hand.”