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Computer Support Specialist Alan Wheeler helps Change Ohio Gun Rights Law

On June 30, 2011, Ohio Governor Kasich signed House Bill 54 into law, essentially providing certain Ohioans with a means of restoring their firearm rights. Ninety days later on September 30 that bill became effective.

For Alan Wheeler, the College of Law’s Computer Support Specialist, the signing of House Bill 54 marked a long time coming, as he began working towards this result since 2007.  Wheeler, who joined the College of Law around that same time, had learned that the Ohio law for restoring a person’s firearm rights – ORC § 2923.14 – was not valid under the 1998 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Caron.

He realized that some of the people who might have had their gun rights restored nevertheless were still legally without those rights, based on the language of the Ohio statute. 

“(For example,) [w]e had police officers who had been ticketed many years ago for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and had their rights restored pursuant to Ohio law, but were unknowingly committing a federal felony every time they carried their duty weapon,” Wheeler said.

The South Point, Ohio, native was one of the first people who discovered the issue. When Wheeler became aware of it, he took advantage of the fact that he was employed at a law school.

Seeing that his office is adjacent to the Ohio Innocence Project, he began talking with Professor Mark Godsey, Director of the OIP, as well as Jenny Carroll, former Academic Director and Assistant Professor.

Carroll, now an Associate Professor at Seton Hall, helped Wheeler learn how to use WestLaw and had him make some phone calls to gain more information. Godsey, meanwhile, helped him develop an understanding of the court rulings and laws.

Others in and around the College of Law community, including (former) Professor Margret Drew and Susan Boland, Associate Director of Public and Research Services, also aided Wheeler along the way.

Professor Drew, for example, put Wheeler in touch with State Rep. Connie Pillich ’98, who met with him and discussed the issues with the law. Wheeler also met with State Senator Bill Seitz ’78, a big supporter on the Senate side, he said.

Additionally, Wheeler worked closely with Jim Irvine and the Buckeye Firearms Association, a political action committee that was instrumental in getting the law changed by pushing the issue to the members of the House and Senate.  “The first thing I had to do was tell people it existed, then find some people who would listen,” Wheeler said. “That’s when I got involved with Buckeye Firearms. “

Wheeler spoke with an attorney working with Buckeye Firearms, Ken Hanson, who was also aware of the issue. Buckeye Firearms eventually had Wheeler stand before the Senate Judiciary on Criminal Justice to testify in December 2008.

The bill was first introduced in 2009, but got stuck in the House after elections, said Wheeler, who later submitted written testimony in February of this year.

It began as a bi-partisan bill in the Senate, but it was ultimately the version introduced into the House – and passed by a House committee that included Pillich – that was signed into law by Governor Kasich.

The State Legislature’s website best explains the objectives of House Bill 54: To amend sections 2923.13 and 2923.14 of the Revised Code to conform the restoration of civil firearm rights with federal law and U.S. Supreme Court case law; to eliminate the prohibition against persons with certain misdemeanor drug offense convictions acquiring or possessing firearms or dangerous ordnance; and to allow restoration of civil firearm rights for firearms that are dangerous ordnance.”

As a guest of State Rep. Ron Maag, who co-sponsored House Bill 54, Wheeler was present when Governor Kasich signed it into law.

Although House Bill 54 became effective mere weeks ago, Wheeler is aware of the impact his efforts will make on many people. He also acknowledges the many people, both inside and outside of the College of Law,  that helped along the way.

“I’m just an IT person, with no legal background or experience, and I could not have done it without (them),” Wheeler said.

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13