Ohio is known as a gun-friendly state, and a review of the gun laws confirms this reputation. No permits are required to buy guns, and "open carry" is the order of the day. However, for many years Ohio handgun laws required a person to have a valid concealed carry license in order to carry a handgun in public in a concealed manner, including carrying one in a vehicle.
But all that changed in June, 2022, when the requirement was eliminated and concealed carry became a right of every eligible gun owner. In order to understand the current laws, it is useful to understand how they evolved.
Ohio Gun Laws: No Permit or Registration
Ohio gun laws have been amended several times in recent years, so even an individual who was well-informed about state gun laws a few years ago may need to refresh their understanding. Generally, it remains the law that firearms need not be registered in Ohio, and no permit or license is required to buy or sell one.
No statute in the Ohio Revised Code requires firearm registration. This includes handguns, rifles and shotguns. In fact, Ohio state law prohibits municipalities from requiring firearm registries within their local boundaries.
A gun owner must obey federal law, however. The National Firearms Act requires registration of certain firearms and components with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This includes suppressors and automatic weapons.
Ohio "Open Carry" Policy
One of the foundational principles of Ohio gun law is the state's "open carry" policy. Under open carry, anyone who legally possesses a firearm can openly carry it in the state. This has been the law in the state for many years, with certain exceptions as to where open carry laws may be restricted.
These include prisons and correctional facilities, courthouses, schools, and private property when the owner/employer forbids it. In addition, until 2022, Ohio law provided that a person may not openly carry a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle without a Concealed Handgun License (CHL).
Amendments to Ohio Gun Laws
In 2016, Ohio passed new laws that reduced the initial concealed handgun license training requirement significantly and opened up the possibility of online training for part of the CHL preparation.
After the 2016 amendments, someone applying for a CHL was still required to undertake a mandatory, two-hour block of live-fire training. These amendments also eliminated the 45-day Ohio residency requirement to apply for a CHL.
Enactment of Ohio's Campus Carry Bill
The open carry rules were again expanded by the enactment of Ohio's "campus carry" bill. The bill took effect on March 21, 2017, and expanded the places where Ohio gun owners can carry their weapons. This law created an exception in the need to have a concealed handgun license for active duty military members.
It also eliminated the ability of employers to prevent their employees from transporting guns to and from work. They now have the legal right to do this as long as they leave the firearms in their locked vehicle during their work shift.
Rules Under Ohio Campus Carry Bill
The 2017 campus carry bill made it legal for anyone with a valid CHL to carry a concealed weapon on a college campus. This is true only if the board of trustees has adopted a written policy or rule authorizing individuals to carry a concealed handgun on school premises. If no written policy to this effect is in place, the gun owner cannot conceal carry on campus.
The 2017 law also changed state rules about carrying handguns in a school safety zone. It permits any individual with a valid concealed handgun license, as well as active military members, to carry their guns in a school safety zone.
They must not, however, enter the school premises with the gun or take it anywhere they know it to be prohibited under Ohio law. They must leave the handgun inside a vehicle at all times, and must lock the vehicle if they exit it. The definition of a school safety zone includes schools, school buildings, school premises, school activities and school buses.
Restrictions on Firearms in Vehicle Without CHL
However, the Ohio law also imposed several restrictions on carrying these firearms in a vehicle without a concealed handgun license. An unloaded firearm may be transported in a vehicle only if it is:
- Located in a closed package or case.
- Placed in a compartment that can be reached only by leaving the vehicle.
- Carried in plain sight and secured.
When it comes to transporting a long gun in a vehicle, the owner must keep the gun in plain sight with the action open or the long gun taken apart. If it is not possible to accomplish these two things, the gun must simply be in plain sight.
Transporting Loaded Firearms
Finally, the law prohibits anyone from transporting or having a loaded handgun in a vehicle in Ohio, regardless of whether they have a CHL, if they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of these.
Likewise, drivers and passengers are prohibited from carrying a gun in a car if their whole blood, blood serum or plasma, breath or urine contains a concentration of alcohol, a listed, controlled substance or a listed metabolite of a controlled substance prohibited for persons operating a vehicle.
Concealed Handgun License
In Ohio, an individual must meet certain requirements to get a concealed carry license; some are affirmative requirements, others are prohibitions. These include that applicants are:
- At least 21 years of age at the time of the license request.
- Legal residents of the United States.
- Resident of Ohio or employed in Ohio.
- Not an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any controlled substance.
- Not a fugitive from justice.
- Not prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm.
- Able to pass the NICS criminal background check.
Private business owners in Ohio can prohibit clients, customers and others from bringing concealed handguns to their business locations. In order to do this, they must post a conspicuous notice stating that concealed firearms are prohibited on the premises.
Carrying Guns in Vehicles in Ohio
As long as an individual in Ohio possesses a CHL, there are no restrictions on how they are permitted to carry a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle. They can carry it in their jacket or on the seat beside them.
An individual without a CHL who wishes to transport a firearm in a motor vehicle must unload it and place it in a closed package, box, bag or case. They can also place it in a spot, like the trunk, where it can be reached only by leaving the vehicle. It is also permitted in Ohio to transport an unloaded firearm in plain sight, for example, secured in a rack or holder made for that purpose.
Note that the definition of “unloaded” under Ohio law is rather unique. It means that:
- There can be no ammunition chambered in the handgun.
- There can be no ammunition in an inserted magazine.
- The individual cannot access a loaded magazine compatible with the gun without leaving the vehicle or without opening a separate enclosure from within the vehicle.
Ohio Constitutional Carry Law 2022
As of June 13, 2022, Ohio's "constitutional carry" law went into effect. This law makes it perfectly legal for a qualifying adult to carry a concealed handgun without a license in Ohio. Also called "permitless carry," this bill made significant changes to Ohio’s concealed carry laws.
First and foremost, obtaining Ohio’s concealed handgun license became optional rather than mandatory. Anyone who lives in Ohio can carry a concealed weapon with or without a license as long as they are currently qualified to obtain one.
Requirements for Physical Licenses
The licensing system remains in place for those who wish to have a license, for example, those needing to transport a gun to another state. But those who have a permit will no longer be required to carry the physical license with them in Ohio.
Federal law still applies in school zones, so that a CHL is mandated, but, otherwise, qualifying adults can conceal carry with or without a license.
What does "qualifying adults" mean? The individual must meet all of the eligibility requirements under Ohio law to get a CHL, including being at least 21 years of age. In addition, they must not be prohibited from possessing a firearm under any state or federal law, and not be a fugitive from justice.
Constitutional Carry and Handguns in Vehicle
How does the constitutional carry law impact carrying handguns in vehicles? The open carry law remains exactly as it always has been: any gun owner is able to carry a handgun as long as it is visible, and the constitutional carry law doesn't alter that.
However, it does alter the laws about carrying a concealed handgun in a vehicle. The law totally eliminates the requirement for a CHL in this situation. Any qualifying adult can now carry a concealed handgun in their vehicle without a permit. Likewise, any qualifying adult is now legally allowed to carry loaded handguns and loaded magazines on their person or anywhere in their vehicle just as with licensed carry.
The new law also lightens a gun owner's responsibilities when stopped by a law enforcement officer. Before this law, the gun owner, if stopped by the police, was under a legal obligation to promptly inform the officer that they had a CHL and had a gun in the car. Under the new law, this responsibility comes into play only if and when an officer asks.
Ohio Penalties for Transporting Firearms
Different punishments apply to violations of Ohio laws concerning transportation of a handgun in a car. Some of these have not been altered by the many amendments to Ohio law.
For example, under Ohio law, anyone who knowingly discharges a firearm while in or on a motor vehicle can be charged with a felony of the fourth degree. This is a serious offense, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Likewise, anyone in Ohio who knowingly transports a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle when under the influence of alcohol or drugs commits a felony of the fifth degree. If convicted, the person may face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. If the loaded handgun is concealed on the person of an intoxicated individual, it is a felony of the fourth degree with more significant jail time and fines.
Failure to Inform Law Enforcement
Likewise, the new law did not eliminate penalties for an individual failing to inform police officers, when asked, if they are carrying a gun.
Nor did it eliminate criminal penalties for improperly handling firearms in a vehicle. Any penalties for carrying a concealed handgun without a license were, of course, eliminated.
- Ohio Revised Code: Title 29 Chapter 2923 Section 2923.16 Improperly Handling Firearms in a Motor Vehicle
- Ohio State Bar Association: Recent Changes to Ohio's Gun Laws — What You Need to Know
- Ohio Revised Code: Title 29 Chapter 2923 Section 2923.12 Carrying Concealed Weapons
- Buckeye Firearms Association: Ohio's Permitless Carry Law Goes Into Effect Today, June 13, 2022
- Ohio State Bar Association: What You Should Know About Firearms in Ohio
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.