COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — State lawmakers took a precautionary vote Thursday to block a rarely-used Michigan practice from bleeding into Ohio’s borders: curtailing firearm access during a state of emergency.
In 2020, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to pause nonessential business, including the sale of firearms, during the coronavirus pandemic incensed Ohio legislators and gun rights advocates alike. That’s why the Ohio House approved in a 55-22 vote a bill to block Gov. Mike DeWine – or any elected official – from doing the same.
“After all, during an emergency might be when the firearm is needed the most,” Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 185, said.
While Ohio gun dealers were immune to COVID-19-related shutdowns in 2020, Wilkin and bill supporters said the “sweeping, restrictive powers” of state and local government became evident during the pandemic.
Lessons learned from coronavirus’ beginnings, Wilkin said, signaled the need for SB 185 and its counterpart House Bill 325 to classify deadly weapon and firearm businesses as “essential” to safety and security during an emergency.
“The Second Amendment does not have a pandemic, natural disaster clause, and this bill makes sure Ohioans and their families can protect themselves,” Wilkin said.
Testifying against the bill, House Minority Whip Richard Brown (D-Columbus) said SB 185 is an example of what he called a recurring theme among the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority: a solution in search of a problem.
“No gun retailers, ammunition shops were shut down during the emergency declaration,” Brown said. “Therefore, there’s simply no need in Ohio for this bill. We don’t need legislation to fix problems that don’t exist here.”
Rob Sexton, legislative director for Buckeye Firearms Association, told NBC4 in March that while Ohio gun shops escaped COVID-19 shutdowns, he applauded SB 185’s sponsors for enshrining what he called the essential nature of firearms into law.
“By and large, Governor DeWine did not take actions to infringe upon gun owners during his declared emergency, but seeing what was done elsewhere gives you a window into what could happen here,” Sexton said.
Under SB 185, political agencies would no longer have the power to ban the sale or possession of firearms in zones cordoned off by the government, like areas lined with yellow caution tape in the event of a riot or mob, for instance.
That provision, Brown argued, violates “home rule,” a doctrine within the Ohio Constitution that provides local governments some autonomy to make decisions within their own communities.
Brown pointed to what he called the contradictory nature of the General Assembly’s legislation pertaining to riots, like the passage of House Bill 109 in 2020 that criminalized protests deemed riots by law enforcement. Rep. Sara Carruthers, a co-sponsor of HB 109, provided the example of bricks being thrown through windows to rally support behind enhancing penalties against rioters.
“You can’t bring a brick to a riot,” Brown said, “but you can go to a gun shop and buy a gun during a riot? I don’t see the sense in that.”
Passed by both the House and Senate, SB 185 will advance to DeWine’s desk for consideration.