June 8, 2011
COLUMBUS — The largest stadiums and other sports venues in Ohio don’t plan to let fans bring concealed weapons with them, even if state lawmakers and the governor approve a proposal that would allow it in facilities that serve alcohol.
The facilities they plan to continue banning guns for safety reasons, taking advantage of existing law that lets privately owned or leased venues prohibit weapons.
The Republican-led Ohio House and Senate have passed separate bills that would let a person with a concealed-carry permit have a firearm in many facilities that serve alcohol as long as the person was not drinking beforehand and does not drink at the venue. Violating those restrictions would be a felony offense.
Opponents say the proposal would lead to a dangerous mix of booze and weapons, but supporters say it would put Ohio on par with other states where people can legally have firearms in some venues that serve alcohol.
GOP lawmakers say passing the proposed change is among their priorities, but it’s not clear whether Gov. John Kasich, a gun owner, would approve it. Kasich has expressed support for the idea in the past, but spokesman Rob Nichols said the first-term Republican wants to review the details of the legislation before deciding whether he would sign it.
It would apply to facilities with a Class D liquor license, which allows for on-premise alcohol consumption. Concealed handguns currently are illegal in such facilities, which can include nightclubs, shopping malls and museums.
About 17,000 locations in Ohio had Class D permits as of April 1, the most recent count available, said Matt Mullins, a spokesman for the Division of Liquor Control. Those include venues such as Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Nationwide Arena in Columbus and Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Facilities that are home to Ohio’s major professional sports teams prohibit weapons, including guns and knives, and don’t anticipate their policies would shift, even if the law does.
“We don’t think it’s going to change anything that we do,” said spokesman Bob DiBiaso of the Cleveland Indians.
University sports venues apparently would not be affected because properties owned or leased by colleges are among the places where state law generally bans concealed weapons. They’re also prohibited at many government facilities, school areas and places of worship.
Ohio is among nine states that generally prohibit firearms where alcohol is served and consumed, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a national public interest law center aimed at preventing gun violence. Guns are allowed in bars and restaurants in eight states, including Mississippi, which enacted a law this spring that allows firearms in professional and college athletic stadiums, LCAV attorney Laura Cutilletta said.
A dozen states prohibit gun in bars but allow them in at least limited parts of restaurants. The remaining 21 states don’t have laws about firearms in venues that serve alcohol. In some, the issue is left up to local governments or is less of a concern because there are tougher regulations on getting a permit for a concealed weapon, Cutilletta said.
Proponents say the proposal is about allowing people who legally have concealed weapons in their vehicles to carry the firearms into restaurants that happen to serve alcohol. They say it’s not aimed at mixing booze and weapons or having guns in bars and stadiums.
“This legislation simply was never about being able to carry a gun into a bar — it’s about being able to retain your gun at a Max & Erma’s instead of leaving it in the car as an invitation to thieves and thugs,” Jeff Garvas, president of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, wrote in an editorial sent to newspapers around the state.
Ohio would remain in the minority of states that ban people from having firearms if they’re consuming alcohol, said Ken Hanson, legislative chairman for the Buckeye Firearms Association.
“We’re still taking the baby-step restrictive approach on this,” he said.
Opponents of the legislation contend allowing alcohol and weapons — and potentially raucous sports fans — in the same space would be dangerous.
They include the Ohio Restaurant Association, which represents 2,400 members with 5,000 locations. It has sent the governor a letter asking him to veto the proposal if it reaches his desk, association spokesman Jarrod Clabaugh said.
“The board didn’t feel that the law in place now is broken,” he said.