December 19, 2014

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UPDATED: Guns allowed in park after Oberlin Council agrees to follow state law

COUNCIL-FOR-WEB

Council voted 4-3 in favor of complying with state law Sept. 16, 2013. THE CHRONICLE TELEGRAM/CHELSEA MILLER

OBERLIN – With much reluctance, City Council passed legislation to allow guns in city parks, but that doesn’t mean Council is free from potential litigation, according to Jeff Garvas, president and founder of Ohioans for Concealed Carry.

Garvas argued that a change to the ordinance to prohibit the “unlawful possession, use or discharge of any type of a firearm” is too vague. Ohioans for Concealed Carry and some Ohio gun owners petitioned City Council to change its ordinance, which formerly banned any type of firearm from the municipal park, despite state law that allows it.

“Now they’ve said you can’t have an unlawful firearm, and they haven’t declared what an unlawful firearm in the park is,” he said.

Garvus warned City Council that passing the ordinance as it is written would not be in compliance with state law. He said Ohioans for Concealed Carry asked City Council to remove the word “firearm” from its ordinance, but he said City Council is still bent on controlling firearms in the city.

City Law Director Jon Clark told City Council that he believed the ordinance was legally sound, however, although he suggested that Council review the city’s other ordinances regarding firearms for compliance to state law.

On Monday, City Council also discussed petitioning the Ohio General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich to pass legislation to enable home rule cities to regulate the possession of firearms in public parks. The resolution passed unanimously during a first reading after a 4-3 vote to enact the new firearm legislation.

Garvas, who spoke to The Chronicle-Telegram after City Council’s meeting, said he was not pleased with the outcome of the meeting, but he would not say whether Ohioans for Concealed Carry would sue the city of Oberlin. Ohioans for Concealed Carry has successfully sued the city of Clyde for failing to keep its gun-control ordinance in line with state law.

“We have attorneys, and we’ve learned from previous incidences. We don’t come to an event without having some knowledge,” he said. “I honestly am kind of surprised about how things went tonight.”

The citywide debate on gun laws began Aug. 2 when Ashland resident Brian Kuzawa sent an email to police Chief Tom Miller, reading that he would be visiting the city with a gun, despite the city’s legislation. City leaders also received an email that day from Dave Noice, ORC 9.68 compliance coordinator with Ohioans for Concealed Carry, who informed them that they could face legal action if the ordinance isn’t changed.

City Council discussed tabling the issue on Monday, but City Councilman H. Scott Broadwell said he just wanted the debate to end and the gun owners to leave the city. Last week, outspoken gun advocates gathered at Park Street Park with their firearms holstered to debate gun ownership with some residents and council members.

“I truly believe that once we do this, the gun people will have no reason to come into town,” Broadwell said.
Councilman Aaron Mucciolo echoed Broadwell’s sentiments.

“Gun people, if we change this, are you getting the hell out of my town?” he said to some cheers from the crowded City Hall.

Residents in attendance had mixed opinions on the city’s gun laws, although those against firearms appeared to be in the majority. Many residents said they feel unsafe knowing that guns can legally be carried into city parks, where children are playing.

Residents were emotional at times, discussing Monday’s shooting at a Navy Yard in Washington and a 3-year-old who allegedly shot herself with a handgun at a campground in Yellowstone National Park. Guns kill people, said resident Anne Conway, who said she does not believe in violence to solve problems.

“This is not the Oberlin that I want for our children. Far from making us safer, more guns mean more people harmed by gunfire,” she said.

Resident Anna Pilisy told City Council that she lost loved ones who were killed by “safe, long-term gun owners.”

“A simple safety would turn a gun off or a cellphone off, but the man who just spoke and the other man who was sitting behind me had their cellphones go off during Council meeting. They disregarded your request for complete silence of phones,” she said. “So do they put their safety on their guns when they should? How safe are we with these people in this town?”

Timothy Hall said gun ownership is a civil right protected by the Second Amendment, and he said it’s inappropriate for City Council infringe on those rights.

“It’s true that protesters have come to Oberlin, but I’d suggest that they’re here because the town is wrong. The town’s prohibition on guns is what has given rise to the protests. Rather than yourselves being victimized by outside forces, you’re being protested by people who are rightfully complaining about the town’s excessive exercise of political power,” he said.

Gary Witt, of Columbus, argued that guns can actually save people who are at the hands of an armed criminal.

He talked about Shawn Stevens, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a brutal attack in Elyria in which she was shot in the back, sexually assaulted and beat by a homeless man, who then dumped her into the trunk of a car.

Witt said if Stevens, and several other women who were brutally attacked in Ohio, had a gun to defend themselves, the circumstances may have been different.

“Is the criminal going to target the store with a sign that has a sign that reads ‘No guns allowed,’ or is he going to target the store that he doesn’t know?” he said. “Every one of us in this room is responsible for our own safety. No one else is responsible for that.”

After the lengthy public statement session, City Council agreed that more discussion needed to be had on the issue, despite the passage of the new ordinance.

The Rev. David Hill, pastor of First Church in Oberlin, suggested a public forum for further discussion. Hill, who said he is against firearms but open to a difference in opinions, said he has been working with other local faith leaders to organize the forums.

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