December 20, 2014

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Oberlin’s Park Street Park becomes center of gun debate

From left, David Sonner, of Oberlin; Michael Holubar, of Wakeman; Fred Tegtmeyer, of Ashland; Jeff Phillips and Chase, 8, of Oberlin; Nick Mascari, of Wellington; and Brian Kuzawa, of Ashland, debate whether guns should be allowed in public at Park Street Park in Oberlin, which does not allow firearms. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

From left, David Sonner, of Oberlin; Michael Holubar, of Wakeman; Fred Tegtmeyer, of Ashland; Jeff Phillips and Chase, 8, of Oberlin; Nick Mascari, of Wellington; and Brian Kuzawa, of Ashland, debate whether guns should be allowed in public at Park Street Park in Oberlin, which does not allow firearms. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

OBERLIN — It wasn’t exactly the usual scene Saturday in Oberlin’s Park Street Park. After all, the town reknowned for its liberalism generally doesn’t have gun-toting folks hanging out.

But that is exactly what occurred Saturday when some Ashland residents and their friends paid a visit to the city with their guns visibly worn and found themselves facing off with those against the idea in the very same park.

The visit coincided with an ongoing debate in the city about a city law banning weapons in city parks. The law, however, contradicts state laws, and gun-rights groups are pushing the city to change it or else face legal action.

“We’re here to educate the public,” said Cleveland resident Harry Wynn, an eight-year gun rights activist. “We’re keeping everyone informed that you have the right to defend yourself.”

The park event was staged by Brian Kuzawa, who is the lead challengers of Oberlin’s law. He had a gun visible during the Family Fair in Oberlin in August, which is when the debate about the the city law first surfaced.

Kuzawa and his crew numbering at roughly a dozen hung out on one of the side of the park. Not far away, roughly 20 opponents of their actions — including Council representatives and some seeking to join Council — claimed their ground.

With the exception of one brief exchange, the two sides didn’t meet or talk.

Sharon Pearson, currently running for Oberlin City Council, said the advocates promise to continually appear in the park until the law changes.

“It’s not a part of Oberlin’s culture and I feel as if we’re targeted because of that,” said Pearson, echoing a sentiment shared by several attendees. “Guns in public places are not safe.”

Councilman Bryan Burgess agreed.

“The first reaction you have seeing a person carrying a gun is apprehension,” Burgess said. “The conversation then turns to the weapon, not the person.”

As those with guns strapped to their sides walked into the park, a man and his children noticed and left the park.

The only debate between the two sides during the Saturday standoff occurred when former Councilman David Sonner got into a heated exchange with the pro-gun faction.

“They’re immovable and so am I,” said Sonner, who said he regrets having once shot a skunk in town, which led to his arrest. “It’s lunatic to increase accessibility to lethal weapons.”

Kuzawa, however, said in the wake of gun-related violence in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., carrying a weapon and being able to protect oneself is important.

Kuzawa and Ohioans for Concealed Carry have both issued warnings to the city that they’ll pursue further action if the city law isn’t changed.

Oberlin resident Megan Shief — who jokingly offered to purchase the Oberlin parks as a means to privatize and rid them of guns — said she doesn’t think the Council can stand firm on this one regardless of public opinion.

Council, she said, will “cave in.”

Contact Elizabeth Kuhr at 329-7155 or ekuhr@chroniclet.com.