John NealAs of June 13, 2022, the state of Ohio now allows most individuals to carry a concealed handgun in public without having to obtain a concealed handgun license (“CHL”). Our attorneys have identified several important implications (and potential pitfalls) for Ohio’s D-class liquor permit holders and their patrons.

Under the new law, any “qualifying adult” may carry a concealed handgun throughout the state without a CHL. A “qualifying adult” includes anyone who: (1) is at least 21 years of age; (2) is not prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm under any state or federal law; and, (3) is a U.S. citizen or an alien lawfully admitted under an immigrant visa.

Ohio law regulates the possession of firearms in D-class liquor permit premises, such as bars and restaurants. It is generally a fifth-degree felony to possess any firearm in licensed D-class premises. D-class permit holders and observant patrons are likely familiar with this warning sign, which state law requires every D-class permit holder to display on premises (see ORC §4301.637).

The sign warns that possession of a firearm “may” constitute a felony. The word “may” is used because the prohibition contains a few exemptions, most notably for individuals who have been issued a CHL. As of June 13, that exemption also applies to qualifying adults, meaning that any qualifying adult may now lawfully carry a concealed handgun in D-class premises.

Even under the new law, there are still two categories of people who remain prohibited from possessing any firearm on D-class liquor permit premises:

  • Anyone who is consuming any alcohol while on-premises, or who is under the influence of alcohol or any drug of abuse.
    • “Drug of abuse” includes marijuana, per OAC §4729:9-1-01. Therefore, anyone who has recently used marijuana cannot carry a firearm into a D-class premises.
  • Anyone who is not a qualifying adult, including:
    • Anyone who is prohibited under state or federal law from possessing or receiving a firearm. This includes most convicted felons, individuals under protection orders, and individuals previously involuntarily committed for mental health treatment.
    • Anyone under the age of 21. Persons ages 18-20 generally may possess and openly carry firearms in Ohio, but may not do so on D-class premises.

Note that unlike with driving, there is no permissible threshold for blood alcohol content while carrying a firearm. Carrying a firearm while having consumed any alcohol whatsoever is a first-degree misdemeanor under ORC §2923.15. This then becomes a fifth-degree felony under ORC §2923.121 if the firearm is carried in a D-class liquor permit premises. Under no circumstances should an employee of a D-class permit holder serve alcohol to any person the employee knows is carrying a firearm, as there are potential criminal ramifications for the server.

Ohio law is clear regarding concealed handguns. Any qualifying adult who is not consuming or under the influence of alcohol or drugs is allowed to carry on D-class premises (unless the business conspicuously posts a §2923.126 sign – more on that below). Ohio law is also clear on concealed weapons other than handguns: those are unlawful to carry per ORC §2923.12, regardless of whether the individual has a CHL or is a qualifying adult.

But what about firearms that are carried openly? Since the state of Ohio was founded in 1803, open carry of firearms has been generally lawful, without any permit required. While open carry in D-class premises by individuals without a CHL was previously prohibited, that may no longer be the case. The exemption for qualifying adults in ORC §2921.121 does not expressly require that the firearm be concealed, nor that the firearm carried must be a handgun (as opposed to a rifle or shotgun).  Open carry on a D-class liquor permit premises presents a gray area upon which Ohio courts have obviously not yet ruled.

Setting aside the concealed versus open carry question, it is important to remember that any private business may choose to post a sign prohibiting the carrying of firearms on its premises. Per ORC §2923.126, a person who knowingly violates such a posted prohibition commits criminal trespass, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. This law has not changed with constitutional carry, and any posted prohibition applies equally to both CHL holders and qualifying adults. D-class permit holders may, but are not required, to post such signage. (As an aside, it is also important to note that the state-mandated D-class premises warning sign discussed above (the §4301.637 sign) does not, by itself, constitute a posted prohibition for purposes of §2923.126.)

Regardless of whether a business chooses to post such signage, business owners should be aware that Ohio law provides broad protections for businesses from any civil liability related to the actions of CHL holders or qualifying adults who bring handguns onto their premises.

If you are a D-class liquor permit holder and have questions about how the new concealed carry law might impact your business, we encourage you to contact the Walter | Haverfield Hospitality and Liquor Control team.

Alexander R. Bibisi is an associate at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on hospitality and liquor control. He can be reached at abibisi@walterhav.com or at 216-658-6217. 

John N. Neal is head of the Walter | Haverfield Hospitality and Liquor Control team. He can be reached at jneal@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7866.