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Ohio bill relaxes gun laws: The next frontier in states rights vs. federal law?

If passed, Ohio’s new bill would eliminate state permit and training requirements for carrying a concealed weapon. This is the latest effort among state lawmakers across the country to challenge federal gun laws.

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    Gun rights stickers are pictured on display at an exhibition booth during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland February 26, 2015. Ohio is poised to become the next state to loosen its concealed carry legislation, even as the national debate around gun laws continues to heat up.
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Ohio residents would no longer need permits or training to carry concealed weapons, if a new bill proposed in state legislature passes into law.

House Bill 147, introduced just weeks after Ohio relaxed regulations around concealed carry permits and allowed hunters to use noise suppressors – the latest effort among state lawmakers around the nation to expand gun rights, two years after President Obama vowed, and failed, to strengthen federal gun laws. It fits in a larger ongoing battle over the balance of power exercised by states under the US Constitution vs. the federal government, on issues that include minimum wages, marijuana use, affirmative action, and race or gender discrimination. 

In Ohio, the new measure, proposed by Rep. Ron Hood (R) of Ashville, would let anyone 21 or older who is not otherwise banned from having a firearm carry a gun. It would prevent law enforcement officers from conducting searches and seizures based on a person's carrying or possessing a firearm. Landlords would also be prohibited from barring tenants or guests who own or carry guns.

“Particularly in Western and Southern states, where individual liberty intersects with increasing skepticism among gun owners, firearms are a political vehicle in efforts to ensure states’ rights and void US gun laws within their borders,” The Washington Post reported last year.

The bill would also make the Buckeye State the latest after Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, Wyoming, and most recently, Kansas to allow residents to carry a concealed weapon without a license. (The Kansas law was approved last week and is set to take effect July 1.)

Supporters have said that current Ohio regulations – which require applicants to undergo eight hours of training, pass state and federal background checks, submit their fingerprints, and pay a fee – amounts to “an unconstitutional restriction of a constitutional right,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.  

“Any law-abiding citizen should be able to carry a gun, concealed or not,” Rep. Andrew Brenner (R) of Powell, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, told the Dispatch. “Whether they’re carrying it underneath a jacket or openly displaying a sidearm should make no difference.”

Opponents of the bill are wary of loosening regulations. Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, told the Dispatch that while his organization is in favor of concealed carry, they do not agree with eliminating the licensing procedure.

Jennifer Thorne, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, gave a more pointed response: “That is very troubling, and we maintain that it is a public health risk,” she told the Dispatch. “Do we really want to increase the number of people who can carry hidden, loaded weapons in the state of Ohio?”

“What kind of message are we wanting to send to our kids?” she added.

Nationwide, the power struggle around gun laws goes beyond concealed carry regulations. Last summer, News21 – part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education – released an in-depth reporting series called “Gun Wars,” which documents the debate around guns in America.

They found that while battles over gun laws continue at a federal level, a gridlocked Congress has pushed activists towards other fronts, particularly in the states.

“We’ve shifted some of our priorities, and while we’re still leading the fight in Congress to strengthen our federal gun laws, we are doing more and more advocacy work at the state level and working to strengthen state gun laws,” Brina Milikowsky, director of strategy and partnerships at Everytown for Gun Safety, told News21.

In some places, high profile shootings that have received national attention served to deepen, instead of close, the gun law divide.

“It simply created a huge chasm, at least in terms of what we’re talking about as a nation,” Paula Reed, a Colorado English teacher, told News21. “What I see us talking about in the media and on social media is this hardline, ‘Guns are evil, we need to get rid of all of them and the NRA’s [National Rifle Association] evil,’ and, ‘You can pry my gun out of my cold, dead hand; don’t come after my guns.’”

But there are issues and places where both sides are finding common ground. Last year, bipartisan support from Minnesota state lawmakers led to the passage of a state law that ended gun ownership for domestic abusers.

The key, according to the Star Tribune, was the focus on an area that had broad public support: Preventing domestic homicide.

“I find myself in a position to vote for a bill that actually has the word ‘gun’ in it,” state Rep. David Dill, who has repeatedly pushed for gun rights in Minnesota, told the paper. “I think that is progress.”

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