Kastner Westman & Wilkins, LLC
On March 20, 2017, Ohio legislation took effect that expanded the rights of concealed handgun licensees. These changes significantly impact restaurant establishments and their ability to restrict firearms on their premises. In light of this recent legislation, Ohio establishments should review policies for both patrons and employees to ensure that they are not violating the law.
Firearms in Restaurant Establishments
The Ohio Revised Code generally prohibits firearms in restaurant establishments that serve alcohol. However, concealed handgun licensees are afforded special privileges. The prohibition does not apply to concealed handgun licensees, provided that they do not consume alcohol. Violations of such laws are felony offenses. If a firearm is illegally possessed on the establishment’s premises, then the offense is a felony in the fifth degree. If a firearm is possessed on the premises and is also on the individual’s person or is concealed ready at hand, then the offense is a felony in the third degree.
While the Ohio Revised Code affords special privileges to concealed handgun licensees, restaurant establishments still have the option of prohibiting all firearms inside their establishments by conspicuously posting notice of such prohibitions. Such postings have the effect of barring all firearms, even those carried by concealed handgun licensees. Should a concealed handgun licensee illegally carry a firearm where there is a posted prohibition, the licensee is guilty of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor in the fourth degree. Notably, however, posted prohibitions may not infringe upon concealed handgun licensees’ rights to transport or store firearms in their privately-owned vehicles.
Firearms in Parking Lots
The recent changes to Ohio’s law restrict businesses, property owners, and employers from prohibiting a concealed handgun licensee from transporting or storing firearms on their property, if:
- The firearms are stored inside a privately-owned vehicle while the licensee is in the vehicle;
- The firearms are locked in a closed compartment of a privately-owned vehicle while the licensee is away from the vehicle; and
- The privately-owned vehicle remains in a location where it is otherwise permitted to be (e.g., a parking lot).
The practical effect of this new law is that restaurant establishments are no longer able to prohibit patrons or employees with concealed handgun licenses from keeping firearms in their privately-owned vehicles.
Complying with the Law
Restaurant establishments should consider their preferred approach to concealed handgun licensure. To summarize, whether a concealed handgun licensee may carry a firearm into a restaurant establishment turns on a couple factors. First, it is illegal to carry a firearm into an establishment if the licensee is consuming alcohol or is otherwise under the influence. Second, it is illegal to carry a firearm into an establishment where there is a posting barring firearms. Absent at least one of these two factors, a concealed handgun licensee may carry a firearm into a restaurant establishment. Therefore, if an establishment wishes to restrict licensees from carrying firearms inside under any circumstances, then a posting is required. To avoid any confusion, signs prohibiting firearms should be placed in a conspicuous location just inside establishments. Remember, restaurant establishments cannot use such postings to prohibit firearms in their parking lots.
Restaurant establishments should also review their employee handbooks, policies, and practices. Given the recent change in the law, a blanket policy prohibiting firearms anywhere on an establishment’s premises is now considered a violation of Ohio law. An exception in employee policies must be carved out for the transportation and storage of firearms in concealed handgun licensees’ privately-owned vehicles. In addition, employees terminated for properly exercising such legal rights may have a viable claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Restaurant establishments should consult with an attorney to determine how best to approach the carrying of firearms on their premises.