With the passage of House Bill 233 out of the Ohio House today, the chipping away of a business’ private property rights continues. Late last year, the legislature passed Senate Bill 199 banning employers from prohibiting firearms in private vehicles on their property, also known as parking lot carry. The bill also included a provision preventing an employer or property owner from having a policy that has the “effect” of prohibiting parking lot carry.
While employers were still trying to determine what is and is not allowed under this amorphous has the “effect” of prohibiting language, the legislature took it one step further. Rather than try to clarify the law, the legislature determined it should punish employers for non-compliance and let the courts sort it out. In fact, just over a week ago, the Senate inserted an amendment into House Bill 49, the operating budget, that first provided civil liability for businesses and property owners, including damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs, for violations of the statute now allowing parking lot carry discussed above. As previously mentioned, this was while many businesses were still trying to figure out what all the law even prohibited as it had only been in effect three months. At the request of the Ohio Chamber, this provision was later altered to only allow an individual to seek injunctive relief if he or she felt a policy was in violation of the law. Though still problematic, this change was significantly better than the alternative.
However, continuing down this path, HB 233 was reported out of committee July 5 and then passed out of the House just one day later over the objections of the Ohio Chamber, other business associations, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Association of Police Chiefs and others. This legislation makes it significantly more difficult for businesses to provide a safe work environment for their employees and customers and infringes on their private property rights. Under current law, an owner of private property, including a business, can post a sign prohibiting visitors, employees, and customers from carrying firearms onto their property. If an individual knowingly violates that prohibition, he or she can be charged and found guilty of criminal trespass (ORC 2923.126(C)(3)(a)).
Proponents of this legislation have stated the purpose of HB 233 is to allow individuals who have a concealed handgun license (CHL) and unintentionally forget to remove their firearm prior to entering a place where firearms are prohibited to avoid criminal charges if they leave when asked. However, current law already accommodates this as a person can only be charged with criminal trespass if the person knowingly takes a firearm into a place where it is prohibited.
HB 233 goes far beyond the simple “I forgot” scenario to decriminalize all areas where guns are prohibited for CHL holders. This is a clear infringement upon the private property rights of businesses and their ability to prohibit firearms on private property.
The language in this provision also goes well beyond handguns. HB 233 allows a CHL holder to carry any “deadly weapon” onto or into private businesses and face no criminal repercussions provided that the individual leaves upon request. A “deadly weapon” is defined under ORC 2923.11(A) as “any instrument, device, or thing capable of inflicting death, and designed or specially adapted for use as a weapon, or possessed, carried, or used as a weapon.” Thus, this would allow an individual to intentionally bring any instrument capable of inflicting death into a place that prohibits weapons and potentially face absolutely no repercussions. In addition to not facing any criminal penalties, the new language in HB 233 also takes away the ability for a business or property owner to pursue any civil action for trespass against the person.
We believe this legislation is unnecessary, unjustified, and unacceptable. The bill now moves on to the Ohio Senate for further consideration this fall.