December 17, 2014

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Oberlin gun ordinance to match Ohio law advances

OBERLIN — Brian Kuzawa, the Polk resident who carried his firearm into an Oberlin park, triggering a citywide debate on gun laws, met criticism from both residents and City Council Tuesday night.

Kuzawa expressed his opinion on why guns should be allowed on city property, but Sharon Fairchild-Soucy, vice-president of Council, responded that she did not feel safe in a city that allows guns.

“I want my grandson to grow up in a town where guns are not necessary, and I think I have the right to live in a protected environment where guns are not a factor,” she said to a round of applause.

Later, Kuzawa was stopped by two residents who were leaving the City Council meeting. One woman told Kuzawa that it was ironic that he said his gun could protect him when gun violence was rampant in the country.

“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to carry a firearm,” Kuzawa responded, shrugging.

The debate on the city’s gun laws began Aug. 2 when Kuzawa emailed Police Chief Tom Miller that he would be legally carrying his firearm in the park. He notified Miller that the city’s ban of firearms in municipal parks went against state law — something that is allowed under the Ohio Revised Code.

On Tuesday, city Law Director Jon Clark urged Council members to amend Oberlin’s ordinance to match state law, lest they face legal action.

State law allows for carrying firearms in public with the exception of some locations. Those who challenge any city ordinance that violates their right to bear arms could be awarded costs and reasonable attorney fees.

Four City Council members, albeit reluctantly, voted to amend the ordinance to state law during a second reading.

“Succumbing to the state so that we don’t all lose our shirts is in no way of an indication of how we feel about this law. What we may find ourselves doing is rescinding our ordinance in order to protect ourselves from a suit and then look for other options,” Fairchild-Soucy said prior to the vote.

The ordinance will go to a third reading during City Council’s next meeting, at which time Council will either approve the revisions or pursue other actions to prohibit firearms in the park.

Council discussed several alternatives, including privatizing its municipal parks. To do so would allow the owner of the park to establish his or her own firearm laws.

Oberlin resident Megan Schief offered to purchase the city’s two parks for $20, but Clark said the parks would go to the highest bidder if they were sold.

Council also suggested fighting state law through the court system, which would cost another city $70,000, according to Councilman Bryan Burgess.

Dave Noice, ORC 9.68 compliance coordinator with Ohioans for Concealed Carry, previously spoke to The Chronicle-Telegram, warning that fighting the law would be a costly endeavor.

Ohioans for Concealed Carry sued the city of Clyde in 2008 after it prohibited licensed handgun owners
from carrying concealed handguns in city parks. The city of Clyde appealed the ruling that its ordinance was unconstitutional, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohioans for Concealed Carry.

Burgess said he has been in discussion with Clyde’s police chief, who said he would share notes and files on the city’s legal battle. Burgess said, at the urging of Oberlin residents who are against Ohio’s gun laws, he has also spoken with representatives in other cities who are going through similar circumstances.

“Clyde spent $70,000 roughly, in total, arguing up from the lowest court to the highest court in the state,” he said. “I had these nightmare visions of a challenge costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it cost $70,000, so that was kind of interesting.”

Police Chief Tom Miller presented data on gun arrests in Oberlin in the past three years. According to police records, there were 17 incidents involving guns ranging from felonious assault to having weapons under disability. There were two rapes and three aggravated robberies involving guns, none of which occurred in the city’s parks.

“None of the crimes that we’ve dealt with dealt with anybody with a (concealed carry) or an open carry permit. These were all unlawful concession of guns,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.