The national debate over gun control flares up after every shooting tragedy, like the latest in Orlando, Florida, but some officials say it may be the wrong discussion.

“We’re very close, as a nation, to losing confidence in ourselves,” Williams County Sheriff Steve Towns said. “That’s where we’re at right now and we need to take lessons from nations that have been dealing with this for a while.

“We need to be proactive in protecting ourselves but we can’t let that change our daily activities.” Towns said the solution is to “take a more aggressive line against the motivations that drive killers to act,” rather than focusing on the weapons they use.

“Nobody ever just out of the blue starts attacking people without indicators. Every killer has been on the radar before they attacked. This last guy in Orlando, the feds interviewed him three times. When they talked to his friends and co-workers afterward, none of them were surprised.

“The federal stance is weak on (tracking potential terrorists) and our hands are tied on what we can do with those kinds of individuals,” Towns said. “It’s a very kid-gloves, take-no-action approach.That needs to change if we want to stop future attacks.”

Fifty people died and 53 more were injured Saturday when a single gunman barricaded himself in a bar in Orlando, Florida with an AR-15-style rifle. One victim was Army Captain Antonio Brown, who served in both Iraq an Afghanistan. He earned his commission, and degree in criminal justice, from Florida A&M University.

Did he have to die unarmed under attack? Does anyone?

House Bill 48, in the Ohio legislature, proposes to reduce the number of designated gun-free zones throughout the state and, under certain circumstances, reduce the penalty for misdemeanor violations to a $500 fine. Police stations, courthouses, educational facilities and government buildings will still be off-limits if the bill passes. Restaurants, bars and businesses would depend on the owners’ consent. Even churches would be accessible so long as their governing bodies consent.

The law needs to change because people are too vulnerable in the crowded areas where no one is allowed to carry, said Jim Irvine, spokesperson for the Buckeye Firearms Association. “Government buildings, churches, schools and college campuses — if a killer wants to rack up a big body count they always go to one of those locations. It’s a very distinct pattern, not a coincidence.”

Stryker Police Chief Steve Schlosser supports the idea whole-heartedly.

“Every good citizen should carry a weapon to defend themselves,” Schlosser said. “Courts should still be off-limits but every place else, even bars, should be alright as long as the establishments agree. If you’re going to carry a gun, don’t drink.”

Towns also supported the concept but drew the line tighter: no bars. Not even restaurants “like Applebee’s that have bars,” he said.

“That’s something we should not do. It’s going too far,” Towns said. “If there’s potential for people to be under the influence, weapons shouldn’t be there.”

Clarence Wheeler, owner and manager of Jackie Blu’s in downtown Bryan, liked the idea.

“We’ve never had an issue,” Wheeler said. “It’s a right (to carry a firearm) and if you have a permit that would be quite alright.”

Eric Johnston, who owns the Bomber Saloon and Steakhouse in Edon, felt differently.

“Not really for it,” Johnston said. “It’s illegal to discharge a firearm if you consume alcohol so there’s no reason to consume and carry. As long as you don’t consume, I don’t have a problem, but it’s pretty much just an accident waiting to happen.”

The Times contacted nine other establishments throughout the county, all of which declined to comment.

An all-time high

Walk down Main Street any day of the week and there’s a good chance you’ll pass somebody carrying a concealed weapon.

Concealed carry permits and gun ownership are at an all-time high in Ohio, according to data from Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office. More than 500,000 residents — 4 percent of the total population — are packing heat now.

County sheriff’s offices processed 36,118 new permits through the first three months of 2016, more than ever before. The next highest rate was the year before, during the first quarter of 2015 when sheriff’s offices processed 24,560 new permits.

“It’s rapidly becoming mainstream,” said Irvine. “It has become increasingly popular with soccer moms and others who just want to be safe in their everyday lives.”

Williams County is holding its own with the rest of the state.

Sheriff Steve Towns’ office processed 246 new permits during the first quarter of 2016, the biggest spike on record. During the first quarter of 2015, clerks processed 84. The first quarter of 2014 totaled 95; first quarter 2013 totaled 208; first quarter 2012 totaled 79 and first quarter 2011 totaled 58.

“We’ve never had to deal with issues involving permit holders in our area,” Towns said. “Guns are part of our general upbringing. Most of us are very familiar and responsible with them. That same respect just isn’t there in other places. Somebody gets murdered in southside Chicago every day. They have the toughest gun laws and the worst gun violence.”

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