Appeals Court Rules Ohio Concealed-Carry Ban Unconstitutional

By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - People may carry concealed weapons in the county that includes Cincinnati, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging Ohio's ban on carrying hidden weapons.

Richard Ganulin, an assistant city solicitor, said Cincinnati plans to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court and will ask for a stay on the ruling, which would allow the ban to be enforced in Hamilton County.

The 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals declared the ban unconstitutional, accepting the argument of five people who said the prohibition violated the state constitution's guarantee that people may arm themselves for self-defense.

"There is no doubt that the Ohio Constitution grants citizens the right to possess, and to bear, arms," presiding Judge Mark Painter wrote in the ruling.

Lawyers for Cincinnati, the county and state had argued that government has the right to regulate the manner in which weapons are carried.

Joe Case, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, said her office is reviewing the ruling.

Judges Rupert Doan and Lee Hildebrandt Jr. joined Painter in upholding Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman's Jan. 10 ruling that the state ban could not be enforced in the county. State law bans carrying a concealed weapon and having a loaded weapon in a vehicle.

"The problem ... is that it does not simply regulate, but effectively prohibits, law-abiding citizens from bearing weapons," the ruling said. "Perhaps the General Assembly can, or will, enact a concealed-weapon law that is constitutional. But this court can only deal with what we have before us, which is an unconstitiutional law."

The five people challenging the law -- who include a private investigator, fitness trainer and hairdresser -- say their jobs take them into areas where they need self-defense.

One of the plaintiffs, who drives a food delivery truck, said Wednesday he has continued to arm himself throughout the lawsuit.

"I feel like a burden's been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I don't risk arrest," said Pat Feely, 31, of suburban Norwood.

Feely became a test case for the ban when he was arrested in 1999 because he kept a gun in his waistband while delivering pizzas.

Chuck Klein, a Cincinnati private investigator and lead plaintiff, said he wasn't surprised by the ruling.

"I don't see how they could have come to any other conclusion," he said. "The evidence was compelling."

The workers' attorneys had also argued that conflicting enforcement by different police agencies makes it difficult for people to know how to exercise their constitutional right to self-defense.

They said Cincinnati police have arrested people for carrying concealed weapons, and city officers have testified they probably would arrest someone who tried to openly carry a weapon.

A State Highway Patrol officer had testified that the patrol has caught motorists carrying loaded guns but let them go because the motorists said they were hunting groundhogs.

Lawyers for Cincinnati, the county and state argued that the ban should be upheld, and that there is no constitutional right to carry a hidden weapon.

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the weapons law in the 1920s, and Ruehlman cannot contradict the higher court, the state's lawyer argued.

The appeals court's earlier stay on Ruehlman's January ruling expired at 9 a.m. Wednesday, meaning the ban can't be enforced unless the Supreme Court grants another stay.

The Ohio House passed a bill that would allow most Ohioans to carry concealed weapons in March. Senate President Richard Finan, a Republican from suburban Cincinnati, has promised hearings on the bill. Gov. Bob Taft says he wants law enforcement endorsement before signing such a bill.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said Wednesday he would support a state law allowing concealed-carry. He said he is obligated to uphold the ban in this lawsuit because the sheriff is named as a defendant.

The Second Amendment Foundation of Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, has spent "tens of thousands" on the challenge to Ohio's ban, spokesman David LaCourse said.

Forty-two states allow carrying concealed weapons with a license or permit, LaCourse said. A similar law has passed in New Mexico but is being appealed.

Vermont allows concealed-carry without a license or permit.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, D.C., is helping fight the suit.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)