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Carrying Firearms in Public Places: The Off-Duty Officer

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By Justin Harris

Retail, Hospitality, and Entertainment Facilities Liability - Summer 2019 Newsletter,
August 2019

In Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, the country was rocked once again by acts of senseless violence. In Dayton, Ohio, an armed gunman opened fire in a public place, killing 9 innocent people and injuring 27 others. Within seconds of the first gunshot, the police were able to neutralize the danger. This act of valor saved countless lives.

Although it was on-duty officers who neutralized the active shooter within seconds of the first gunshot, Ohio has recently passed a law that may provide an extra layer of protection to the citizens of Ohio by off-duty police officers. Specifically, on March 28, 2019, the state approved House Bill 228 which prohibits establishments from stopping law enforcement officers/ investigators from carrying weapons in establishments that serve the public regardless of whether the officer is on duty.

What does this mean? This means that in public places such as amusement parks, concerts, malls, or restaurants, off-duty officers who have sworn an oath to serve and protect will be able to carry weapons into these venues even when off duty. The ability for officers, however, is not without limits. In order to carry their firearms off-duty into public places, law enforcement officers must: (1) carry their agency’s identification card; (2) carry only a weapon issued or approved by their respective agency; (3) be sober and not drinking alcohol while carrying; and (4) be an active-duty law enforcement officer and cannot be a retiree.

This new law encompasses all establishments in Ohio serving the public. The law defines “establishment in serving the public” as a hotel, restaurant, retail business, commercial establishment, office building that is open to the public, sports venue, or any other place of public accommodation, amusement, or resort that is open to the public, including bars and liquor permit owners. What does that mean for the establishment? What it means is that police officers who have sworn to protect the public will be able to carry their firearms with them at all times. So, the next time you are at a sports event and you see an individual carrying a firearm, although it may startle you in some instances and possibly create a sense of fear, just know that this individual may be a law enforcement officer who has taken an oath to serve and protect.

If you are a business that that is concerned with law enforcement officers coming onto your premises with firearms, note that there are restrictions with respect to their ability to carry a firearm, including to consume alcoholic beverages while carrying a firearm. In addition, there is a built-in immunity for the establishment, if the law enforcement officer is negligent in the use and/or discharging of his firearm while on the establishment’s premises. Some establishments, such as amusement parks, for example, have been very proactive and require any and all officers wishing to carry their firearms, to check their firearms at the security station prior to riding any amusement park rides for safety reasons. This is just one example of how a business has developed procedures and protocols to keep its guest safe.

If you are concerned with how to handle this legislative enactment and would like to discuss how your business can be better equipped to handle off-duty officers who may carry their firearms onto your premises, please contact Reminger Co., LPA and we would be happy to assist you with developing procedures and protocols for your establishment to provide a safe atmosphere for all of your guests.