Ohio Senate OKs bill to allow guns in Capitol lot

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Guns could be left in vehicles parked in the Statehouse garage beneath the state Capitol under a bill the Ohio Senate passed on Thursday.

The measure cleared the Republican-controlled chamber on 26-7 vote, with several Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The House passed an earlier version of the legislation and would have to OK the changes before the bill can be sent to the governor.

Passage came after senators stripped parts of the bill that dealt with concealed weapon agreements between states.

The provision would have expanded how the attorney general enters into such reciprocity agreements with states to allow Ohioans with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms.

Currently, the attorney general must negotiate written reciprocity agreements with states. The provision would have allowed "automatic" reciprocity with states that offer such a provision in their law. It would have worked in a way similar to how states recognize out-of-state driver's licenses.

Some law enforcement groups opposed that section of the bill because they said it could permit license-holders from states with weaker training requirements to legally carry weapons in Ohio.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine had supported the provision. He said in a letter to a Senate committee that it could open the door to agreements with another 11 states. Ohio already has deals with 23 states.

Lawmakers removed the wording because they said they wanted to take more time to review the change.

"This is an issue that we need to act upon, but we need to do it right," said state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican.

A Senate committee on Wednesday revised the bill to allow gun owners with or without concealed-carry licenses to keep their weapons in cars in the Statehouse garage. They also could keep firearms in cars in the parking garage at a building near the Capitol that houses the governor's office and many legislators' offices.

State Sen. Larry Obhof, who offered the amendment, said many Senate Republicans are gun owners who like hunting and shooting at ranges. The Medina Republican said the revision was "largely for convenience's sake" for gun owners.

State Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, said law enforcement officers should be allowed to have weapons in the garage, but questioned the idea of expanding it to other gun owners.

A spokeswoman for the State Highway Patrol, which oversees security at the Capitol, said that if the bill becomes law, officers would continue "providing a safe and secure environment."

Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said gun owners still would not be allowed to bring their weapons into the Statehouse or state-owned buildings.

The bill also would make changes to how the state defines an unloaded weapon and would eliminate a competency requirement for concealed-carry permit holders to prove they still can handle a gun when they renew their licenses.