In the wake of a dispute over the Athens County Sheriff's Office's interpretation of Ohio's concealed-carry weapons (CCW) law, the county prosecutor's office has told the sheriff he's been reading the law incorrectly.
Last Monday, following news coverage of the case of a man from The Plains, who recently was denied a concealed-carry permit because of a past criminal case, Sheriff Pat Kelly requested a legal opinion on the matter from county Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.
The same day, assistant prosecutor Elizabeth Pepper responded, telling the sheriff in so many words that he was wrong to refuse to renew the man's permit, based on a 10-year-old domestic violence charge that was pleaded down to a conviction for disorderly conduct.
In his letter to Blackburn, Kelly had asked the prosecutor to tell him whether, in his legal opinion, a person qualifies for a concealed-carry permit if he or she has ever been charged with a domestic violence offense - even if that charge was pleaded down to a lesser offense.
This question relates directly to the case of Shane Sloan, who was recently turned down by the sheriff's office when he tried to renew his CCW license.
As reported Monday in The Athens NEWS, Sloan was told he was disqualified for a license renewal because of a 2003 domestic violence charge, which was resolved when Sloan pleaded to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct.
Domestic violence is a disqualifying offense for a concealed-carry permit. Sloan argued that because he was not currently charged with that offense when applying for the renewal, he was not disqualified.
The sheriff said, however, that his office has recently begun applying an interpretation of the CCW law in which "charged" with an offense translates as "having ever been charged," rather than "currently charged."
The Ohio Attorney General's office, in a comment to The NEWS, suggested that this reading of the law is out of line with how the AG's office interprets it.
After the publication of the article - which generated heavy reader feedback - Kelly penned his letter to Blackburn.
He noted in the letter that his office had denied Sloan's permit renewal application, based on wording in an AG's booklet about concealed-carry laws and licensing. He said a staffer who handles concealed-carry permits for his office "informed me he did contact the AG's office and they would not give an opinion" on the legal issue.
He went on to tell Blackburn, "I need your opinion as to whether a person qualifies to receive or renew a concealed carry permit" if that person has ever been charged with domestic violence, regardless of whether the charge was pleaded down to a lesser offense.
He then asks, in such a case, where a domestic violence charge is lowered in a plea, "exactly what offense would preclude an applicant from receiving the concealed carry permit."
Pepper's letter indicates that the county prosecutor's office reads the law as Sloan did - that "charged" means "charged at the time of license application."
"If at the time of application the applicant is under indictment or charged with domestic violence, this would be grounds to deny the request for conceal carry permit," she wrote. "If the charge is reduced to a non-Brady disqualifying offense, it would not be grounds to deny the request for conceal carry permit." (A Brady-disqualifying offense is one that, if a person is convicted of the offense, disqualifies that person under federal law from purchasing a firearm.)
Regarding Kelly's second question, about which lesser-offense convictions in a case like Sloan's would still disqualify an applicant, Pepper wrote, "Only a Brady disqualifying offense or other offense in the applicable law, including but not limited to (Ohio's concealed-carry permitting law), would be grounds to deny the request for conceal carry permit."
In addition to the high volume of online reader response to the NEWS stories, the issue also has predictably drawn the attention of gun-rights advocacy groups.
Ohioans for Concealed Carry, for example, was largely critical of the sheriff's office in an online forum sponsored by that statewide group, which opened Dec. 30.
Equally negative in its response, posted Dec. 31, was Bearingarms.com, a site that says it believes in "a preexisting, unalienable right of self-defense," which includes "the use of contemporary arms, ammunition, and accouterments."
Another group that picked up on the story, reposting the first NEWS article on the topic on its website Jan. 1, is the Hocking Hills Tea Party.