December 22, 2014

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State law vs. local law: Gun owners plan picnic in public park

OBERLIN — A number of gun owners will bring their handguns to the city’s parks today despite pleas from City Council and some local residents who say there is no place for guns in Oberlin.

Ashland resident Brian Kuzawa, who sparked a city-wide debate after bringing his gun to Oberlin in August, said he is returning to the city Saturday with a group of friends who will picnic at the Park Street Park. Kuzawa, who said he will be at the park at 11 a.m., said he never intended for the gathering to become public knowledge, although he has been outspoken at City Council meetings for the right to legally carry firearms in the city.

“I was just inviting a few of my friends to come and hang out,” he said. “It looks from indications that it kind of blew up a bit.”

Kuzawa said he has no ties to Oberlin. He visited the area after hearing about the city’s beautiful parks. But after public outcry surrounding the city’s ordinance banning guns in municipal parks — something state law allows — he said he is interested in the outcome of City Council’s decision.

City Council has approved rewriting its ordinance during two separate meetings, albeit reluctantly. Council members Sharon Fairchild-Soucy and Bryan Burgess have spoken out against the ordinance and have considered fighting state law or privatizing city parks so as to ban guns from those areas.

Still, four Council members agreed, at the urging of City Law Director Jon Clark, that the ordinance needs to be changed lest they face legal action.

Ohioans for Concealed Carry, a group that has successfully sued the city of Clyde for banning firearms in its parks, has taken notice of Oberlin’s ordinance and has warned the city to change it. The warning was issued Aug. 2 by both Ohioans for Concealed Carry and Kuzawa.

Kuzawa, who said he is not associated with Ohioans for Concealed Carry, said he just wants Oberlin residents to know the law. He hopes today’s gathering, which he estimated would draw “two dozen people,” will educate residents that its ordinance is not enforceable.

Kuzawa anticipates no problems.

“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 said.

Police Lt. Michael McCloskey said he wasn’t aware of the gathering, but he said Kuzawa and his friends can legally carry their guns into the park. He said the Police Department hasn’t enforced the city’s ordinance because 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.”

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