‘Our voices are not heard’ — Ohio’s largest police union slams new GOP gun bills

‘Our voices are not heard’ — Ohio’s largest police union slams new GOP gun bills
Posted at 10:28 PM, Jun 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-20 22:28:11-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — No matter how many times the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio testifies against the latest Republican-proposed gun legislation, the outcome is always the same: push the bill forward.

The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio (FOP) represents about 26,000 law enforcement officers across the state, according to Vice President Jason Pappas. Despite being the largest police organization in Ohio, their concerns aren't being heard, according to leadership.

The group was one of the more than 350 groups and individuals to testify against House Bill 99, which allows any school board in Ohio to choose to arm school staff members with up to 24 hours of training. Although it is not specified how much time is needed, there is a requirement to complete "tactical live firearms training."

"It does get frustrating when it feels like our voices are not heard," Pappas said. "We have some serious concerns about implementation."

The signing of H.B. 99 isn't an isolated incident, he added. The FOP also spoke out against Senate Bill 215 and H.B. 325.

S.B. 215 allowed for permitless carry, and it took effect on June 13, 2022. This means anyone who can legally own a gun can bring it to the vast majority of places. Some technicalities within it could harm Ohio, Pappas said.

"The person carrying a gun no longer has an affirmative duty to notify enforcement," he said. "There are several things that will make this more difficult for law enforcement and in turn, could lead to less public safety."

Before the concealed carry permit was removed from Ohio law, a concealed handgun license (CHL) would be attached to the registry of someone's car. Without that permit, police will not know if someone is carrying a gun when they run their license plate.

"Just having that CHL let us know that you had the authority to carry that firearm," Pappas said. "Fast forward to today — that's not necessarily true. Those background checks used to prevent people from getting guns that shouldn't have them and several of those people along the way were disqualified from renewal or had them revoked — so that system is now gone."

Just because someone has a firearm doesn't mean they should, he said. It also doesn't mean they shouldn't, though.

"The presumption now is that they're lawful," he said.

There is now a list of all the new ways law enforcement needs to check if someone legally has a gun, instead of it just popping up when they run the plates.

"They can ask a couple of questions, but it cannot unduly extend the traffic stop or the reason for the traffic stop," he said, adding that it puts a time concern on officers.

There is a myriad of other problems officers will need to face due to permitless carry, but Pappas said another relevant bill is H.B. 325.

H.B. 325 would prevent local police from prohibiting the sale of any firearm, ammunition, reloading equipment, or deadly weapon. The bill would designate gun sales and transfers as "essential business," and can't be taken away during a declared emergency or any other "statutorily authorized" response to any disaster, war, act of terrorism, riot, civil disorder, public health crisis, mob or "emergency of whatever kind or nature."

"It is frustrating and it's also very concerning to the officers on the street because they want to make sure that they're doing a good job," Pappas said.

These bill hearings all have something in common, he added.

"I haven't seen any active-duty officers testifying to the affirmative of these bills," he said. "I do know that there are gun rights groups, some gun owners and some previous law enforcement officers who are involved in training and obviously have an interest because they want to train and earn a living and all those kind of things."

RELATED: Ohio lawmaker who wrote bill requiring gun training for teachers owns gun training business

Going back to H.B. 99, Pappas and his team said they understand that urban and rural departments have different needs, but having trained for gun usage in schools should be common sense.

"We believe that the standard that the training levels are too low and that those positions are best suited for law enforcement officers," he said.

Even though he signed the bill, Gov. Mike DeWine agreed.

RELATED: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signs bill allowing teachers, staff to carry guns in schools

"My preference would be for a police officer, a school safety officer," the governor said, regarding his thoughts on guns in schools while he was attorney general. "That was my personal opinion that I expressed at that time and I still follow that."

Mike Weinman, the director of government affairs for FOP said the bill doesn't make any sense.

"What price do you want to put on child safety — with a janitor running around with a firearm?" Weinman said in a previous News 5 interview. "There's always some sort of partnership you can do with the sheriff's office or local police agencies. You know where you can share that cost and work things out. There's been bills that you can have a levy specifically for the schools to have school resource officers."

The bill quickly moved through the legislative process right after the school shooting in Uvalde, with the town’s police force being investigated for not entering the building for nearly 80 minutes.

"I think the jarring thing to come out of Texas, besides the initial shock of the horrible, horrible tragedy, was the time lapse between the police officers," DeWine said.

That isn't an acceptable argument to make right now, Pappas argued.

"I refuse to use that tragedy to exploit or for personal gain," the officer said. "I think that's terrible. I would prefer to wait for all the facts to come out."

New details are coming out as the investigation continues, so Ohio should be waiting until that is finished to start putting laws in place, he said.

Sometimes he feels ignored by the right, but scrutinized by the left, he added.

"It has been a challenging time on both sides, left and right," Pappas said.

The FOP is in the middle of a lose-lose situation, he added.

"I feel like that's been law enforcement's perspective for many years now," he said.

For Weinman, he has to be at the Statehouse nearly every day when the legislators are in session.

"It's a strange, strange dynamic and it's something that we have to look at when we do our endorsements," Weinman said in a previous interview. "Overall, does this person actually support us or is this just a logo that they put on a tweet every once in a while? How sincere are they?"

"What was done with permitless carry will affect endorsements," he said. "But at the same time, we have bills that we need to move."

Pappas wants to work with both sides, but to do that, he needs to have a seat at the table, he added.

"We're going to make sure that we do the best that we can to not alienate, but to bring everyone to the table and make sure that our voices are heard as we move forward," Pappas said.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.