Review of conceal-carry licensing shines light on vulnerabilities

Published 12:18 am Saturday, August 8, 2020

COLUMBUS — The office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued a special report today identifying some vulnerabilities in the state’s concealed-carry licensing system and outlining steps taken to plug those gaps.

The report stems from a proactive effort by the attorney general to ensure that Ohio continues its 16-year record of carrying safely and responsibly.

“By any measure, our concealed-carry system is a success,” Yost said. “To safeguard the public, this law prohibits licenses to felons and people who have been deemed by a court to be mentally incompetent. All of us have an interest in enforcing these prohibitions.”

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Given his office’s role in the checks and balances of the state’s system for issuing concealed-handgun licenses (CHLs), the attorney general last year ordered a review of the process, seeking to ensure that such licenses weren’t ending up in the wrong hands.

The databases needed to conduct this analysis are maintained by different state agencies, a complicating factor in the review process.

Under Ohio law, determinations of mental incompetence (MI) must be reported to the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) by courts and/or mental health providers. The list of active holders of Ohio CHLs, meanwhile, is housed with the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), which maintains the information in its Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS). LEADS is used strictly for law enforcement purposes, meaning that the Identification Division of BCI did not have access to the CHL data.

This hurdle was cleared when BCI, through a memorandum of understanding, obtained the list of CHL holders from ODPS, data that the bureau then compared against its MI database – a comparison that had never been done.

“Everyone in Ohio should expect that we are enforcing existing laws — and, as this report demonstrates, we are,” Yost said. “This first-of-its-kind law enforcement project would not have been possible without the partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and ODPS, under the leadership of Director Stickrath and Gov. DeWine.”

What BCI found in its review is that, of the Ohioans who have a CHL, 41 of them had been deemed to be mentally incompetent — which means they should not have had a concealed-handgun license or possessed a firearm.

“Those 41 individuals represent only a tiny fraction of a percentage of the Ohioans who have concealed-carry licenses, and we are not aware that any harmful outcomes have resulted,” AG Yost said. “But even one unlawful license is too many.”

To fix the problem, BCI and ODPS partnered to automate the cross-checking – at no cost to taxpayers – to permanently allow CHL updates to flow to BCI, thus allowing the bureau to make routine cross-checks of the concealed-handgun licenses against the mental incompetence database. When a mentally incompetent adjudication is uncovered in the cross-checking process, BCI is committed to promptly notifying the appropriate sheriff’s office by phone and in writing so that action can be taken on the CHL in question.

“Revoking wrongfully issued licenses is an example of how we can and should enforce existing gun laws before creating new ones,” Yost said.