COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Basking in Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent approval of a permitless carry bill, pro-gun groups in Ohio are bracing for their next set of legislative initiatives.

After DeWine signed into law Monday a bill removing the requirement that Ohio gun owners obtain a permit for a concealed carry weapon, gun rights organizations are celebrating what they called a victory for gun owners – but hope to ride the wave of momentum in chipping away at laws restricting gun access across the state.

“We kind of view it as a down payment on the interest that Republicans owe the gun vote in Ohio,” Chris Dorr, executive director of Ohio Gun Owners, said. “It’s a good start, but we have a lot more work to do.”

With Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, representatives from the Buckeye Firearms Association and Ohio Gun Owners pointed to three bills they hope will soon be enacted.

Two of the three bills have already passed one chamber of the General Assembly – one prohibiting the state from curtailing firearm access during a state of emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, and another that would allow educators to be armed at school without receiving peace officer training.

The third bill, which has yet to receive a vote in either chamber, would declare Ohio as a Second Amendment “safe haven” by allowing the state more leeway in refusing to enforce federal rulings that legislators deem an unconstitutional infringement upon the right to bear arms.

“Gun owners in Ohio have been treated so unfairly for so long by Republican supermajorities that gun owners elected,” Dorr said. “Passing bills like constitutional carry is only the start.”

Passed by the House in a 64-35 vote in February, House Bill 325 and its counterpart Senate Bill 185, would declare firearm businesses and services as “essential” and prohibit a state agency or political entity from curtailing gun possession and limiting firearm businesses from operating during a state of emergency, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

Rob Sexton, legislative director for Buckeye Firearms Association, said HB 325 was largely inspired by law enforcement’s confiscation of guns from some New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a safety precaution.

“They forgot they were privately owned; it’s people’s property,” Sexton said. “You’re literally taking away people’s rights to defend themselves.”

More recently, Sexton said the states of emergency that popped up across the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted further concern from pro-gun groups that governments could use their authority to inhibit gun ownership and access.

He pointed to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to suspend the operations of gun dealers in April 2020 through an executive order that temporarily suspended activities “not necessary to sustain or protect life,” according to her executive order.

“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.

Despite his support for HB 325, Dorr said there are “more pressing” pro-gun bills on the docket that should be prioritized – as many gun owners and businesses successfully refused to comply with executive orders shutting their operations down during the pandemic.

Instead, Dorr said he’s pushing for the enactment of House Bill 62, also known as the Ohio Second Amendment Safe Haven Act, that would allow Ohio to bypass federal gun laws and court rulings if legislators deemed them a violation of the Second Amendment.

“It doesn’t say that federal law is null in Ohio,” Dorr said. “It simply says you can pass whatever gun bills you want in Ohio, [and the federal law is not necessarily] going to be enforced by Ohio law enforcement.”

The third – and perhaps most controversial – bill, House Bill 99, would allow concealed weapon carriers authorized by a school district to forego the 700-plus hours of peace officer training. That means teachers, staff members or other people authorized by the school could possess a concealed firearm with only 20 hours of general training and four hours of handgun training.

“Probably a good idea to have armed teachers here,” Dorr said. “It’s the best line of defense for our kids, and if we can’t protect our kids, what’s the point?” 

Schools are free to require more than 24 hours of training, but Sexton said the vast majority of the 737 hours mandated for peace officer training has nothing to do with shooting a firearm, thus futile for educators who wish to keep students safe by carrying a gun at school.

“Miranda rights, transporting prisoners, how to properly take a statement, so all these things that are completely unrelated to the problem that we’re trying to solve,” Sexton said.

However, Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said eliminating peace officer training poses a significant safety risk for students and staff alike – and prevents them from learning about things like de-escalation tactics.

“Whenever someone is carrying a gun, there’s a possibility of accidents happening, poor judgment being used, people being injured or being killed in situations that don’t require it,” Cropper said. “If someone’s going to be carrying guns in schools, they should have the proper amount of training.”

Cropper said she hopes more money is funneled into schools to help them afford school resource officers instead of bills like HB 99 — which is also opposed by Ohio’s Fraternal Order of Police — that make it easier for schools to arm teachers.

While Dorr said pro-gun organizations have their work cut out for them in continuing to advocate for gun rights legislation, he said he’ll continue to keep DeWine and his “career support of gun control” under the microscope.

“It’s a good start, but I think DeWine has a lot of work to do in order to convince conservatives and gunowners that he’ll be pro-gun,” he said.