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Government & Politics

Republican Lawmakers Seek to Relax Gun-Free Zones

gun free zone sign at the Statehouse
The debate over how strictly to enforce gun-free zones is back on at the Statehouse.

The debate over gun-free zones is back in full swing at the Statehouse as lawmakers argue which should take precedence: the rights of gun owners or the rights of property owners.

The rights of gun owners
A pair of Republican lawmakers want to allow a certain group of people to carry a concealed weapon wherever they go, even into gun free zones such as schools, daycares and courthouses. Representative Larry Householder of Glenford says that restriction should be lifted for off duty peace officers.

“They’re trained professionals that know how to deal with horrid circumstances and quite frankly I think it’s in their best interest and the best interest of the public to use their expertise off duty as well as on," Householder said.

Laws that weaken gun free zones are not new at the Statehouse. They include allowing anyone with a concealed carry permit to carry in these areas marked as gun free. Part of the problem, according to Householder, is that the signs declaring a place as free of any weapons makes it a target for someone who wants to carry out an attack.

“They’re generally cowards," Householder said. "They don’t want to be faced with a firearm themselves and their biggest fear is either a law enforcement officer or a citizen that is armed and trained and law abiding."

Rights of property owners
Householder met resistance from House committee members during a hearing for his bill. Democratic Representative David Leland of Columbus says property owners have made a personal decision to not allow firearms on their grounds.

“That have signs up that say no guns allowed in these particular premises we’re going to allow them to ignore those particular signs put up by people in private property and still carry their weapons into those places of business," Leland said.

“We trust these people every single day to go into these stores, go into these areas that are gun free while they are on duty and all we’re saying with this legislation is while they’re off duty, they’re allowed to go into those areas just the same as if they were on duty," Householder said.

Leland also asked Householder and fellow Republican Representative Laura Lanese of Grove City, a co-sponsor, about the definition of peace officer. As Leland points out, that definition covers a wide array of officials from natural resources to taxation.

“There are a lot of people that some people might not think would fall into the definition of peace officer do you envision all of those people being covered under this legislation?” Leland said.  “These people have been thoroughly vetted, thoroughly trained and will likely to be in a lot of scenarios where we would like to have on hands to be able to respond to an incident that might arise."

Resistance from businesses
Previous bills that allow certain individuals to bring their guns into gun-free zones have been thwarted. A major opponent to such bills is the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which says it believes they undermine business and property owners who’ve chosen to ban weapons.

And while Householder says the public would be grateful to have an armed, trained officer in the event of an attack, Leland says those property owners have assessed the risk and made their choice.

“I think it’s up to the individual to make that decision I mean this is still a free country the last time I looked when government trampled on the rights of individuals and right now they’d be trampling of people and their private property," Leland said.

The bill had its first hearing in committee. No word yet on if it’s on track to move forward in the near future.