Columbus OH March 15 2017 Ohio has joined the nation's stampede to loosen gun laws in recent years, approving laws allowing open- and concealed-carry, adopting a lethal self-defense "Castle Doctrine" measure, and now letting people bring guns onto company parking lots.
What comes next is unclear, but some gun rights advocates are pushing for laws requiring that companies allow guns inside the workplace, something that no state currently mandates but which companies can choose to do voluntarily in Ohio.
Dana Silvey, 32, of Miami Twp., says she agrees with the new law in Ohio, which allows people with concealed-carry permits to store handguns in a locked car on company property.
But Silvey doesn't think it goes far enough.
"An even better idea would be being able to have it in the building," she said. "I think we should be able to protect ourselves. And if you're a law-abiding citizen with a permit, I don't see why not."
Interviews conducted by this newspaper show area attitudes on gun laws mirror the sharply split views Americans have on many aspects of public policy, with some arguing that more relaxed laws will make the workplace safer and others maintaining just the opposite.
Senate Bill 199, approved in the wee hours of the final rush lame-duck session in December, pit the Republican-dominated legislature against anti-gun advocates and an unlikely ally: the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Business groups like the chamber see the law as an infringement on their ability to control company property.
"Our opposition to it has nothing to do with anything an employee may or may not do with the firearm. It has to do with the firearm coming onto the property at all," said Don Boyd, director of labor and legal affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. "Many believe property rights are just as important as other constitutional rights."
The law is of great concern to companies handling hazardous materials, where accidental discharge of a firearm could have dangerous consequences, as well power plants and businesses doing work for the federal government, Boyd said.
Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, which advocated for the new law, said the U.S. Constitution clearly protects a person's right to bear arms, and restricting that right endangers society.
"For any business that tells you they don't like this, ask them, 'Are you willing to take the liability for the 25-year-old single mother who gets car-jacked on the way home?'" Irvine said. "There is no right to be free of guns. There is no right to be free of stupid people. We don't have the right to be free of danger."
About a tenth of all workplace fatalities are caused by someone wielding a firearm, data compiled by this newspaper shows. In 2015 4,836 people were fatally injured at work, 486 of them by firearms, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Ohio the total number of people fatally injured at work that year was 202, 18 of whom were killed by firearms.
That ranked Ohio seventh nationally for the number of people killed by firearms at work that year.
Just as the Sandy Hook shooting sparked cries for actions to make school buildings safer, the December 2015 workplace shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. -- which killed 14 and injured 22 -- led to a renewed push among gun advocates to expand where permit holders can bring their weapons.
Although Irvine says he believes companies have a right to keep guns out of their buildings -- putting him at odds with some of his fellow gun advocates -- he also argues that if an armed hothead at work is confronted by someone else with a gun "might it not be safer if they have the skills, if someone had a gun."
Laura Cutilletta, managing attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the statistics don't bear that out.
"If guns made you safer we would have the lowest crime rate in the world because we have so many guns on our streets," she said. "And yet our gun death rate is so much higher than many other countries. So obviously it is not working the way that the gun rights people are saying it is."
The Crime Prevention Research Center estimates there are more than 12.8 million concealed handgun permits in the U.S., including about 500,000 in Ohio. That estimate is based on 2015 data compiled by the group founded by gun rights advocate John Lott. But there is no official tally in Ohio because state law does not require that a record be kept, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
DeWine's office issues an annual report on licenses issued, renewed, suspended or revoked by county sheriffs, who administer the licensing. In 2016 the office granted a record-breaking 117,953 new licenses and renewed 40,982, according to DeWine's annual report.
Officials suspended 1,669 licenses, which is required when someone is arrested or charged with certain offenses or is subject to a protection order.
Another 697 licenses were revoked because the holder was convicted of a disqualifying crime, was covered by restrictions for mental illness or substance abuse, died, moved out of state or decided to not hold the license.
And sheriff's offices denied 1,634 licenses in 2016, according to the AG report.
Gun advocates argue that the presence of guns serves as a crime deterrent, but there is no definitive data that expanded CCW access has any impact on crime, said Grant Neeley, associate professor and chairman of the political science department at the University of Dayton.
"It doesn't have that much of an effect on decreasing crime rates and we don't see a Wild West effect, which is what a lot of opponents of concealed-carry feared," Neeley said.
Beginning March 21, companies in Ohio will no longer be allowed to ban handguns from company property, meaning those who have a state permit to carry a concealed weapon (CCW) can bring their handguns to work as long as the gun is kept locked in their personal car. The law also expands CCW rights in school zones, colleges and universities, child care centers and airport terminals, and forbids companies from disciplining employees for having a gun on company property as long as it remains locked inside the employee's personal vehicle.
Supporters say the law allows people to exercise their Second Amendment rights and defend themselves with a gun on the way to and from work.
"I don't think your employer could tell you you couldn't have a Bible in your car," said former State Rep. Ron Maag, R-Salem Twp., who sponsored a similar gun bill in the House. "It's the same thing. The person who has gone through CCW training is a very conscientious person and the last thing they want to do is jeopardize their right to protect themselves."
But House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said he doesn't believe "proliferation of guns everywhere is the answer."
"The straw that broke the camel's back is the personal property issue," Strahorn said. "That was about usurping private property rights. We should not be in the business of telling private property owners that they don't have the right to determine what will be brought on their property."
Aside from eroding the business owner's property rights, allowing people to bring guns to work endangers other employees and escalates risk if the person with a gun is disciplined or fired, opponents say.
"What happens if we have someone who is upset by what happens at work?" said Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland, who has worked with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "I just personally think that easy access to guns is a problem because people who are having a difficult time emotionally have available to them the capacity to go after other people."
In the bill's final version, the legislature dialed back several proposed provisions, including a much-criticized Senate committee-approved plan to allow CCW holders to carry weapons into libraries, city halls, recreation centers and other public buildings unless those jurisdictions installed expensive security screening equipment.
Another provision dropped in the final version would have given state civil rights "protected class" status to CCW holders, a designation strongly opposed by businesses.
In removing that section, legislators left the new law with no actual punishment for businesses violating the law, said Steve Watring, a attorney at Dunlevey, Mahan and Furry in Dayton.
"We are basically telling employers that they need to comply with the law and not do anything to keep employees from carrying handguns and keeping them in parking lots even though it is not clear what could happen to an employer if they would prohibit that," Watring said. "We always tell employers, 'You don't want to be a poster child on a new law like this.'"
Since Ohio first legalized concealed-carry in 2004, guns rights advocates have successfully pushed to allow concealed handguns to be carried in an increasing number of places.
Among the new provisions under SB 199 is one involving day care centers. Previously they were prohibited from allowing guns on their premises but can allow them now if the owners choose to do so.
Government officials and university and college boards of trustees too can vote to allow permit holders to carry concealed weapons at their facilities. State law had already widened the CCW rights to include government parking lots, including the Ohio Statehouse garage.
The new law also makes it legal for active duty members of the U.S. armed forces to carry a concealed handgun without getting a state permit as long as the person is carrying a valid military ID and proof of specific firearms training.
DeWine, who has expressed interest in running for governor next year, has no concerns about the recent changes in gun laws, Tierney said.
"The law is directed towards persons lawfully following concealed-carry laws," Tierney said.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of concealed-carry and about half have laws allowing people to bring their guns to their workplace parking lot.
"The fundamental right to self-defense should not stop simply because you park your car in a publicly accessible parking lot owned by your employer," said Amy Hunter, media liaison for the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. "When companies invite employees to park on their property, employees should not have to forgo their constitutional rights."
Allowing guns inside the workplace -- or prohibiting employers from banning them -- would be a major step that may even be unconstitutional, according to those interviewed on both sides of the issue.
No state currently forces companies to allow people to bring guns into the workplace.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has unequivocally stated there are limits on the Second Amendment," said Cutilletta, whose group advocates for "smart" gun laws.
Irvine said he thinks companies have the right to keep guns out of their buildings.
"Absolutely," he said. "Because it is inside their private property."
Many companies have already adopted "best practices" for how to handle employee discipline or dismissal to minimize the chance that the person will become violent, according to Watring.
"It really doesn't change the practical advice on things like that because the reality of it is that even without this law there are going to be people that have guns locked in their cars," Watring said. "You have to do some kind of, consciously or unconsciously, a risk assessment of, 'Is this employee a threat?'"
He said managers should avoid intentionally embarrassing people, handle discipline or dismissal privately and avoid the "perp walk," where the employee is escorted out of the building in front of co-workers.
"A lot of time it is the humiliation factor that drives people to want to take revenge," he said.
Dayton Daily News