December 21, 2014

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Oberlin church hosts community forum on gun laws

OBERLIN — The Rev. Andy Call, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Oberlin, said Saturday’s community forum to discuss existing and proposed gun laws likely would not have happened had it not been for action taken by the city last year to repeal some local gun laws after a pro-gun group sued the community.

“No, we probably wouldn’t have been here today,” Call said of the forum attended by about 40 people in the fellowship hall of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

“People feel very passionately about this issue,” Call said, adding, “We’re not trying to take a particular position here. We want to respect different stances.”

Still, most of those who asked questions and made comments seemed to favor laws seeking to restrict gun ownership and tighten access to firearms.

The bulk of the program was presented by David Eggert, a South Euclid resident, and member of God Before Guns, a faith-based coalition of Northeast Ohio churches working to reduce gun violence.

“I had had enough,” Eggert said in explaining how he became active with the advocacy group. “I feel people of faith should lead the way against gun violence.”

“God Before Guns” was formed in 2013 as an outgrowth of a workshop on gun violence at Cleveland’s Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in the aftermath of the 2012 mass school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Gun sales have risen notably after mass shootings, Eggert said, “over fears of (possible) government regulation” of firearms.

“Obama has been a great gun salesman,” Eggert said, noting the general rise in firearm sales since the Democratic president has taken office and repeatedly spoken out against gun violence.

Eggert noted the growing impact state law has on local efforts to control guns and gun ownership.

“Local laws can’t conflict with state law,” he said.

Oberlin City Council repealed a number of local firearm ordinances last fall after City Law Director John Clark warned the city could face significant penalties and other costs if laws remained on the books that dealt with carrying a concealed weapon, improperly using and possessing firearms and possessing a replica or defaced firearm.

The repeal of the local ordinances in November came in response to a lawsuit filed by Ohioans for Concealed Carry over the city’s regulations of possession of firearms in Oberlin parks.

To emphasize the need for continued work to support legislation and other steps to curb gun violence, Eggert cited 2010 statistics that showed there were 11,078 gun-related homicides in the U.S., of which 396 were in Ohio.

Most Ohio gun legislation “is very partisan,” Eggert said, with measures aimed at controlling firearm possession coming primarily from Democrats, while a much larger number of bills favoring gun owners come from Republicans.

Representatives of various groups, including God Before Guns and the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, met with about 40 state legislators, most Republicans, last week in Columbus to show their support for House Bill 31, a measure to require firearms be secured from minors in secure cabinets, safes or with trigger locks.

Eggert termed the child protection law a priority. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Opposition to the measure commonly takes the form of people who say it isn’t needed, Eggert said.

“They say it’s common sense to lock up guns, why pass a law,” Eggert said. “I don’t understand the opposition to that bill. Texas has lots of guns, but they also have a child protection law.”

The Rev. Kristine Eggert, wife of David Eggert and pastor of Disciples Christian Church in Cleveland Heights, told the group House Bill 31 is unlikely to pass in an election year.

Conversely, Eggert said odds of passage are good for House Bill 203, the so-called “Stand Your Ground” measure that has already cleared the Ohio House and now goes before the state Senate “that has a stronger GOP majority.”

The measure would alter the state’s “personal protection laws” to extend homeowners’ legal rights to use firearms not only inside their own homes to protect themselves from intruders, but beyond their properties to situations in which they believe to be in danger of their lives.

Oberlin City Council previously approved a resolution opposing the bill.

Eggert encouraged people to support laws restricting gun ownership and accessibility by working with groups such as God Before Guns.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.