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House passes bill to protect gun owners rights during "public emergencies"

Ohio House lawmakers have advanced a proposal meant to ensure that gun owners’ lawfully held firearms and ammunition aren’t seized by the government during natural disasters, public health crises or other declared emergencies.

The bill that cleared the Republican-led House on Thursday also would deem certain firearms businesses “essential” during those emergencies, temporarily extend concealed carry licenses that would expire during an emergency and keep government entities from stopping lawful hunting or fishing practices during declared emergencies.

GOP Sen. Tim Schaffer of Lancaster, who sponsored the bill, has said it does not add new gun rights but clarifies that gun owners “cannot have their rights taken away.”

Supporters say it would help protect self-defense for law-abiding gun owners.

Democrats opposing the measure say it would hinder local governments from best protecting their residents during an emergency, and possibly violate Ohio’s home rule provision of the state constitution by limiting how they handle emergency situations.

Opponents also criticize another provision in the legislation that would allow law enforcement officers dealing with a “riot or mob” to cordon off any areas threatened by that group. They say that could create unsafe environments for peaceful protesters interacting with police or facing counter-protesters.

The bill, which passed the Senate last year, will return there for consideration after the House made some minor amendments.