MANSFIELD - More Ohioans are carrying concealed guns and with fewer restrictions 10 years after the state began allowing concealed carry guns.
The bill's sponsor and gun lobbyists predicted when the law was enacted that more than 150,000 people would sign up for concealed carry licenses the first few years, but that didn't happen, the Mansfield News Journal reported.
Anti-gun advocates predicted an increase in violence. Gun-related deaths have increased since then, largely caused by more suicides, but crime overall has decreased, according to state health department and the FBI's Crime in the United States records. Research conducted on concealed carry laws' effects on crime rates nationwide has been mixed.
One clear change over the past decade has been a reduction in Ohio restrictions involving concealed handguns. They earlier couldn't be carried in cars, purses and bags. License renewals were required every four years along with a second competency test. Concealed carry guns weren't allowed in bars or public parking lots, and local governments could implement their own, more restrictive licensing rules.
Those restrictions have since been lifted. Gun advocates say changes were needed to get rid of rules that were too restrictive, while those opposing concealed carry say reduced restrictions encroach on the freedoms of Ohioans who don't carry hidden guns.
The number of new concealed carry permits issued to Ohioans has increased, doubling since 2010. Sheriff's offices last year issued 96,972 new concealed handgun licenses, according to the newspaper.
Since 2004, sheriff's offices have issued more than 458,000 new concealed handgun licenses, according to annual attorney general's office reports. That represents about 5 percent of the state's adult population, assuming everyone renewed licenses and none were revoked.
The biggest remaining restriction is "no gun zones," the newspaper reported.
"A gun-free zone is a terrible thing," said Jim Irvine," chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association.
He said criminals will target gun-free zones because they know they won't be stopped by a person with a gun.
Irvine said he doesn't support carrying concealed weapons in restricted areas such as prisons, courtrooms and airports, but believes most spaces should be fair game. But other off-limit areas don't make sense, he said. You can drop your child off at school while carrying a concealed handgun in your vehicle, but if the child forgets a lunchbox, driving back into the school zone violates Ohio law. A bill before the General Assembly would change that.
"That's a pretty important fix there," Irvine said.
Toby Hoover, founder of the anti-gun Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, disagrees with eliminating gun-free zones. She says such zones give business owners the right to restrict firearm access on their property and give other citizens peace of mind.
She also would like to see Ohio follow some other states in requiring individuals to prove they need a concealed carry license.
"You would have to have a reason to get one - if you are endangered in your job or for personal circumstances, feared for your life," she said. "Not just anyone could get one."