Liberal Ohio town considering reversing gun ban due to state law

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, September 9, 2013

Liberal-leaning Oberlin, Ohio may soon find itself actually being forced to repeal a gun control law.

According to the The Cleveland Plain Dealerthe progressive college town’s City Council is debating whether to eliminate a controversial law banning gun in city parks, as the law as it stands conflicts with an Ohio statute that permits guns in most public places, including parks. Should the city decide not to act, gun rights advocates could sue the city to have the statute reversed.

“I’m not in favor of any of this,” Oberlin City Council President Ron Rimbert told the Plain Dealer. ”No one on Council is. But we need to get this passed. We have a responsibility to our citizens that we don’t get caught up in any litigation. In Oberlin, we’re protective of our family and friends. But this is a state law.”

The City Council decided to take up action on the issue after Brian Kuzawa, an Ashland County resident, told the city police that he and his wife planned on bringing concealed weapons with them to a city park on August 2, and that he did not want to be “accosted by” the city police for doing so. According to the Ohio state Attorney General’s Office, Ohio residents with a valid concealed carry permit are allowed to bring guns with them into public parks.

Kuzawa, along with several other gun rights supporters, returned to the Park Street Park in Oberlin this past weekend for a picnic lunch in protest of the city’s gun ban. He has no ties with the college town; he just wants the city’s residents to know that the ordinance as it stands is not enforceable.

“There’s nobody from the law-abiding, gun-carrying side that is going to get out of control, because if they do, they know they could lose their right to carry,” he told the Lorain County Chronicle-Telegram.

Oberlin Police Lt. Michael McCloskey told the Chronicle-Telegram that while he wasn’t aware of the outing last weekend there was no legal issue with Kuzawa and his friends bringing their concealed weapons into the park. He also noted that the city’s Police Department hasn’t enforced the city’s ordinance because the state law supersedes it.

“I don’t really see an issue with it, from a Police Department perspective,” he said. “If there is a reason for police officers to make contact, we will, but we’re not looking to start a confrontation with legal gun owners.”

The Oberlin City Council is expected to make a decision on the ordinance, which was first passed in 1998, on September 16. In doing so, it can either rescind the local law so that the city can follow the state’s law, or prepare for a legal fight with the state.

Those on the City Council, however, aren’t too thrilled about the idea of reversing the law.

“Oberlin does not want people bringing guns into its parks,” Councilwoman Sharon Fairchild-Soucy told the Plain Dealer.

Added City Manager Eric Norenberg: ”One of the biggest frustrations is that our council must act on this when there is clear, local sentiment against it.”

Should Oberlin go to court over the gun ban, it has an uphill battle to climb. Several other cities, including the City of Cleveland, sued the state over the 2006 concealed carry law, but lost in a 2010 Ohio state Supreme Court case.

One group likely to be a party in the potential suit is Ohioans for Concealed Carry, which successfully sued the city of Clyde for banning firearms in its parks in 2008. An executive with the organization, Doug Deeken, believes the issue at hand is simple.

“We don’t want law-abiding citizens getting arrested in Oberlin for an unenforceable law. That’s the crux of the matter,” he told the Plain Dealer. 

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