Openly Armed = Frequently Hassled


In Ohio, where the state constitution declares that "the people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security," supporters of that right waged a long battle to overturn an 1859 ban on carrying concealed firearms. A constitutional challenge was successful at the trial and appeals court levels but rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court. The state legislature finally enacted a nondiscretionary carry permit law in 2004. Since then anyone 21 or older with a clean record who passes a safety course has been eligible for a permit. A recent story in The Columbus Dispatch notes a fact that was widely overlooked during the debate over concealed carry in Ohio: Openly carrying a gun was never illegal in Ohio, and it does not require a permit, although people who tote rifles or strap pistols to their belts in public can expect "some unwanted attention from police officers":

Philip Turner, 30, discovered that in July when he walked from his Hilliard apartment to his parked truck wearing a gun on his belt. At the time, Turner worked protecting banks' ATMs as they were serviced and delivering diamonds to jewelry stores.

An undercover agent with the Ohio Investigative Unitthe police agency that enforces the state's alcohol, tobacco and food-stamp laws—saw the gun and quickly ordered him against his truck with his hands on his head.

"He came up and treated me like a felon for absolutely no reason at all," Turner said. "There wasn't even a suspicious action on my part to warrant him taking this action against me. Had I been out waving a gun around the parking lot, (then) yeah."

After being detained for about 30 minutes, and after Hilliard police arrived at the agent's request, Turner was released without charges. An internal investigation that concluded this week found that neither Agent Timothy Gales, who had stopped Turner, nor his partner, Betty Ford, did anything wrong.

However, it also revealed that Gales did not know it was legal for Turner to carry a gun openly, said Lindsay Komlanc, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety. As a result, more than 100 agents in the unit are to attend a mandatory refresher course on Ohio's gun laws over the next couple of months, she said.

In addition to avoiding hassles from police officers who are ignorant of the law, concealed carry offers the advantages of not alarming passers-by and of keeping criminals uncertain about who is packing. The latter feature means that even the unarmed can benefit from the potential deterrent effect. Whether that effect has had a measurable impact on crime remains controversial in Ohio as elsewhere. The violent crime rate in Ohio, which had been declining pretty steadily since the early 1990s, continued the downward trend in 2004, the year concealed carry permits were first issued, went up slightly in 2005, then down slightly in 2006, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Justice Statistics has data.

[Thanks to Dan Gifford for the tip.]