December 22, 2014

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Oberlin repeals parts of gun laws

OBERLIN — City Council repealed several of the city’s ordinances related to firearms at the recommendation of City Law Director Jon Clark, who said the city could face “substantial penalties, costs and expenses” for maintaining the ordinances, which conflict with state law.

The ordinances, relating to carrying a concealed weapon, improperly using and possessing firearms and possessing a replica or defaced firearm, were initially discussed during a City Council meeting in September that was attended by representatives from Ohioans for Concealed Carry, an organization now suing the city for regulating the possession of firearms in the city’s parks.

In September, City Council reluctantly changed an ordinance to allow firearms in municipal parks, as permitted by the state, but Ohioans for Concealed Carry argued that the change was too vague. Representatives of Ohioans for Concealed Carry said the ordinance, which was changed to prohibit only “unlawful” firearms — a term the organization said was never defined — still conflicts with state law.

In September, Jeff Garvas, president of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, warned City Council that many of its other ordinances also did not comply with state law.

Clark recommended repealing several parts in Chapter 549 of the city’s codified ordinances on Monday. He said Police Chief Tom Miller and City Prosecutor Frank Carlson both were in support of the recommendation.

In a memo to City Council, Clark wrote that the city is not always able to keep up with updates to the Ohio Revised Code, and, as a result, the city’s ordinances may not be valid. He warned City Council that anyone who challenges the ordinances could be awarded costs and attorney fees. He said if House Bill 203 is signed into law, the city may have to pay $100 per day for each day it maintains an ordinance that conflicts with state law after a lawsuit is filed.

Clark added that the city does not prosecute firearm violations under its codified ordinances due to the cost of housing those convicted, rather, the city prosecutes firearm violations under the Ohio Revised Code.

Councilman Bryan Burgess said he supported repealing the ordinance, only to comply with state law.

“We are trusting that the state of Ohio will make sound decisions on the regulation of firearms in Ohio, in order to protect our citizens. And while the state of Ohio has the duty to protect Ohioans, we have the duty to protect Oberlinians,” he said. “What I hear the law director saying is that the repeal of these ordinances will in no way endanger the citizens of Oberlin, because our Police Department will continue to enforce state laws, which are identical.

“Should the time come when the state law no longer protect Oberlinians, I hope that our Police Department and that future City Council will see fit to put the interests of our residents over the state’s supposed interest in maintaining a society where guns are welcome anywhere and people aren’t.”

City Council also unanimously approved a resolution expressing its opposition to House Bill 203, which relaxes several handgun restrictions in the state, including changing personal protection laws known as “Stand Your Ground,” and making it easier for individuals who are the subject of restraining orders to carry a concealed weapon.

Copies of the resolution will be sent to Gov. John Kasich, Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives William Batchelder, R-Medina, and other state legislators.

Councilwoman Sharon Fairchild-Soucy, who has taken trips to Columbus with Burgess to speak with policymakers on state firearm regulations, said she will not give up her fight to restrict gun ownership.

“Your city is not letting this issue go. We will keep on fighting it,” she said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.