State Sen. Terry Johnson – Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal.
A consequential firearms measure cruised through the Ohio Senate and is currently waiting on a hearing in the House Insurance committee. The proposal, like numerous previous measures, preempts local action, this time by prohibiting fees or liability insurance for gun owners.
Cities around Ohio are wrestling with increases in violent crime since the pandemic, but many local leaders argue they’re hamstrung by state laws barring most local firearm restrictions.
Columbus, for instance, is currently locked in a court battle with the state to impose three local firearm ordinances. Those laws aren’t particularly draconian — they prohibit high-capacity magazines, criminalize straw sales, and require safe storage. Nevertheless, state officials insist they violate state law preempting local restrictions.
The insurance proposal would extend those preemptions further.
Sens. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, and Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, insist an insurance requirement for gun owners would infringe on their constitutional rights. They filed a similar bill in the previous general assembly.
“The right of the American citizens to keep and bear arms is as clear as day,” Johnson said on the Senate floor. “And attempts to make it so it’s difficult for law abiding citizens to exercise this right, that’s guaranteed, blazoned into the Constitution, that’s wrong.”
The sponsors aren’t particularly concerned about the fact that they can’t identify a single Ohio municipality that has proposed an insurance requirement. Instead, they point to legislation elsewhere.
“There is a trend of extreme anti-gun measures that directly contradict the Constitution,” Gavarone argued. “In places like California, Illinois, and New Jersey. So we can never discount the fact that it could and probably will be attempted in Ohio.”
“Senator Johnson and I wanted to slam the door shut on present and future attempts on infringement on this particular constitutional right,” Gavarone added.
The sum total of gun owner liability requirements in the U.S. are a state law in New Jersey and a local ordinance in San Jose, California. Both laws are the subject of federal litigation. Illinois lawmakers have proposed insurance requirements in the past, but those measures haven’t made it through the legislature.
In committee, Powell resident Michelle Lee Heym questioned the logic driving the legislation.
“Why would you make access to a lethal weapon easier by prohibiting payment of insurance for normal people?” she asked. “Normal people get insurance when they buy a car, for protecting themselves against sickness or injury. It is almost comical to think one would not buy liability insurance when purchasing a firearm.”
Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, criticized the bill as “a performative action that undermines the home rule of Ohio cities and townships.”
Craig argued the prohibition removes a tool for incentivizing safer conduct — like locking up firearms or reporting them as stolen.
More fundamentally, Senate minority leader Nickie Antonio argued the sponsors have their priorities backward. She cited a string of recent victims shot for banal misunderstandings.
“We’re preemptively protecting something that might happen down the road,” she said, “instead of addressing the things that have already happened, and providing some kind of solutions — common sense solutions to address gun violence.”
The measure passed the Senate on a party line vote. The House has referred the bill to the Insurance Committee. The current schedule has it slated for its first hearing May 10.
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