YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — City police and the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office are trying to determine the impact of the new permitless carry bill that was passed last month.
The bill, which is also known as Constitutional Carry, gets rid of the requirement that anyone over 21 get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Some police organizations across the state were against the proposal, including the state Fraternal Order of Police, which has said that loosening handgun laws increases the danger for officers across the state and the public in general.
City police Chief Carl Davis also said he is concerned about how the bill will affect safety in the city. A large part of his approach to cracking down on violence is having officers look for people who are carrying guns illegally.
“This is uncharted territory for us,” Davis said.
The bill, signed into law March 14, does not go into effect until June 14.
Mahoning County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Yacovone said the bill does not change much. Anyone who meets eligibility requirements can still carry a handgun concealed, they just do not need a permit to do so.
Under the new bill, which was sponsored by State Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, people 21 and over no longer have to get a permit if they want to carry a handgun in Ohio and meet all legal requirements to carry a handgun. That also means that the 12 hours of training mandated for permit holders is also no longer a requirement.
The state first instituted a permit system for handgun owners in 2004.
Also under the new law, people stopped by police no longer have to inform officers if they have a gun. They only have to volunteer that information if they are asked. Presently, if a permit holder is stopped by an officer, they have to immediately inform police that they have a weapon with them and they have a permit for that weapon.
According to the Ohio Capital Journal, Johnson said in remarks at the statehouse that the bill only “tweaks” current handgun laws in the state and will make it easier for people to defend themselves. According to the journal, he blamed liberal politicians in other states and cities for failure to prosecute protesters “burning down our cities” in the wake of social justice protests in 2020 and for not prosecuting people who were carrying out smash-and-grab robberies during the protests.
“We have a right to defend ourselves, and we have a need to defend ourselves,” the Journal quoted Johnson as saying.
Johnson’s office did not return a message seeking comment for this story.
In Ohio during the social justice protests, there were no reported deaths, although there were clashes with police in some cities which resulted in some people being injured and property damage, which was mostly contained to limited areas. Cleveland and Columbus did see looting and other property damage in their respective downtowns.
Backers of the bill also pointed to a 2018 study by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that said there was no discernible change in homicide rates in states that relaxed handgun laws versus states that had stricter laws.
Opponents of the bill pointed to a 2017 study by the American Journal of Public Health that concluded that states with less restrictive handgun laws from 1991-2015 saw a 6.5 percent increase in homicides, 8.6 percent increase in firearm homicides and a 10.6 increase in homicides committed using handguns.
In Youngstown, of 560 homicides from 2001 to 2021, firearms were used in 492 of them, or almost 88 percent.
The city has seen a rise in shootings and homicides since 2019, when Youngstown recorded 59 shootings, 20 of them homicides. In 2020, there were 98 shootings in the city, including 27 of 28 homicides; and in 2021, 139 people were shot, including all 31 homicide victims.
For 2022 thus far, 18 people have been shot, including all five homicide victims.
The law does not change the definition of one of the most common gun charges, improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, but it will change the way it is enforced.
Under Ohio law, improper handling of a firearm is defined as knowingly discharging a gun in a vehicle or having a loaded firearm accessible in the vehicle without a permit.
Under the new law, Yacovone said officers will not be able to charge people with improper handling if they are a legal gun owner because they no longer have to have a concealed carry permit, unless someone is under 21.
At one time, more people were charged by city police with weapons under disability than improper handling, but that has changed dramatically.
In Youngstown, the two most common gun charges are having weapons while under disability, which means a person has a disability — such as a criminal conviction that prohibits them from having or being around a firearm — and improper handling.
In 2019, Youngstown police made 91 gun arrests, with 55 of those being for weapons under disability and 29 for improper handling. The remaining charges were for carrying a concealed weapon.
In 2020, police made 102 gun arrests, with 48 of those for improper handling and 35 for weapons under disability.
However, in 2021, police made 236 gun arrests, 153 of those for improper handling. And of those improper handling arrests, 57 of those people charged are under 21.
Because of the increase in violence last year, Davis created the Neighborhood Response Unit, which is made up of officers who are good at making gun arrests. The unit concentrates on areas of the city that have a high number of shootings and gunfire calls and complaints, mostly on the South Side but lately some West Side neighborhoods as well.
Lt. Gerard Slattery, who heads up the unit, said in the past year, his officers have seen more and more people carrying guns because the people they pull over believe they need a gun to be safe.
“Everybody’s carrying guns now,” Slattery said.
So far for 2022, city police have made 21 arrests for improper handling, with seven of those defendants under 21. They have also made six arrests for weapons under disability, for a total of 27 gun arrests for the year.
Capt. Rod Foley, who heads up training for the department after his second stint as head of the Detective Bureau, said he is waiting for guidance from prosecutors before deciding how officers should be trained to handle gun cases on the street.
Foley said what concerns him is that people often carry guns with them because they want them for protection. But a lot of times what ends up happening is they’ll have a dispute with someone, and instead of arguing or even getting into a fist fight, they’ll just use their gun.
“A lot of people don’t physically fight anymore,” Foley said. “They use firearms.”
Youngstown police make the vast majority of their gun arrests when they pull over a car for a traffic violation. When the new law takes effect, they will no longer be able to charge people over 21 for improper handling if they have a loaded gun in the car, even if they have something illegal with them.
They will still be able to charge people for weapons under disability if they are not allowed to have a firearm.
However, Yacovone said he is thinking of perhaps attaching a firearm specification to a felony charge if the person has a gun with them legally but if they have something illegal in the car with them, like drugs.
When the new law goes into effect, Ohio will be the 22nd state in the country that does not require someone to get a permit to purchase a handgun.