Ban on concealed guns stands, Judge's order halted on appeal
By Marie McCain
Within hours of a Hamilton County judge's decision Thursday that Ohio's ban on concealed weapons is unconstitutional, an appeals court temporarily halted his order for police to stop arresting law-abiding citizens with hidden firearms.
A hearing before the First District Court of Appeals is scheduled for Jan. 22.
In his ruling, Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman agreed with four Cincinnati plaintiffs' contention that the Ohio statute infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.
"There is no doubt that the very thought a potential victim might possess a firearm deters that element of our society that cares nothing about laws or human life but rather understands only one thing - brute force," the judge said.
Judge Ruehlman's ruling does not apply to criminals or those under court order not to carry weapons.
State, county and Cincinnati attorneys later Thursday filed a 17-page brief with the higher court that, among other things, questioned Judge Ruehlman's impartiality.
City solicitors had twice earlier asked the judge to remove himself from the case - requests that he denied.
The appeal also argues that there are existing safeguards in place that would shield law-abiding citizens from arrest if found possessing a concealed weapon.
Assistant City Solicitor Rick Ganulin said police officers will be put at greater risk by Judge Ruehlman's decision.
"If the challenged statutes are declared unconstitutional, or their enforcement enjoined, law enforcement officials will be limited in their ability to intervene in potentially dangerous situations prior to the commission of a crime by someone carrying a concealed weapon," Mr. Ganulin wrote.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said this is a matter that should be dealt with in the legislature.
"I mean no disrespect to Judge Ruehlman ... but the import of the ruling will be that one judge in one county found the law to be unconstitutional," Mr. Allen said. "All this means is that it would be unenforceable in his courtroom." A proposal making it legal to carry a concealed weapon in Ohio has languished in the legislature for at least five years.
State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, said Thursday he hopes Judge Ruehlman's decision will spur legislators to approve the most recent proposal.
Mr. Seitz is a member of the Civil and Commercial Law Committee overseeing House Bill 274, one of the concealed-carry bills being considered.
"Judge Ruehlman's ruling underscores the need for the Ohio Legislature to come up with a better concealed-carry law then we have now," Mr. Seitz said. "And clearly, if the prospect is that there will be no law at all ... then we had better set about the task of coming up with a law like those in 43 other states." Forty-three states allow concealed carrying of
firearms, including Kentucky and Indiana.
Joe Andrews, a spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft, said Thursday that Judge Ruehlman's decision does not affect the governor's position: that he is reluctant to sign a concealed-carry law without the support of all policing agencies.
Attorneys for the Cincinnatians and pro-Second Amendment group that brought the suit nearly two years ago said Judge Ruehlman did the right thing.
In July 2000, the plaintiffs - a private investigator, a hairdresser, a personal trainer and a deliveryman - sued every municipality in Hamilton County, the county, and the state, citing incidents in which they believed they needed a gun to protect themselves.
The primary litigant, Chuck Klein, is a private investigator who believes that the Constitution permits him to carry a gun, concealed or otherwise.
He said Thursday he was pleased with Judge Ruehlman's decision but was worried about the appeals court.
"Appeals court judges can do whatever they want to do. They don't have to follow the law if they don't want to. We've certainly seen the Ohio Supreme Court do that very same thing," Mr. Klein said.
Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer