Ohio Bill Would Restore Local Authority for Gun Laws


A recent bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would restore the ability of local governments to regulate guns and pass their own gun laws.

Under current law, no local governmental entity can have any firearms regulations that are more restrictive than the state law. This is known as preemption.

State Senators Cecil Thomas (D-9) and Hearcel Craig (D-15), co-sponsors of Senate Bill 202, say that most of the gun bills passed since 2006 have expanded gun rights. At the same time, they say, gun violence has been on the rise.

Sen. Thomas says that Ohio cities and towns have “little ability to proactively prevent gun violence.”

“Instead, our local leaders – who know their communities best – have had their hands tied and been forced to stand witness as gun violence is committed within their city,” he said when introducing the bill. “We need to provide our local leaders with the tools they need to make their residents safer.”

Sen. Craig says that local elected leaders better understand the cities they represent.

“According to current Ohio law, my community does not have the ability to do what’s best for its residents and address our unique challenges related to gun violence,” he says. “Allowing (local leaders) to create tailored rules about their communities’ safety will curb the unnecessary carnage gun violence has caused.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ohio’s rate of gun deaths in 2017 was the highest since they started keeping records in 1999. According to the Columbus Dispatch, of the 1,589 gun deaths in 2017, “918 were by suicide, and 621 were homicides. In addition, 19 people died in accidental shootings, and 21 died from “legal intervention” — shootings by police. Ten gun deaths were unclassified.”

According to data from the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (The Alliance), the number of firearm deaths declined in 2018 to 1,504. The number of firearm homicides also declined to 541. But the number of firearm suicides increased to 963.

The bill would repeal Ohio Revised Code Section 9.68 – both the current version and the new version that goes into effect on Dec. 28.

The current version says that since the right to bear arms is a fundamental right and is constitutionally protected in every part of the state, the General Assembly “finds the need to provide uniform laws throughout the state.” It also says that if anyone wins a legal challenge to any ordinance, rule, or regulation that is in conflict with the state’s gun laws, the court shall award costs and reasonable attorney fees to the challenger.

The Supreme Court of Ohio has upheld this version and ruled that it does not unconstitutionally infringe on municipal home rule authority.

The new version expands upon the law.

  • It extends the state’s authority over the regulation of firearms to include manufacturing, taxing, keeping, and reporting of loss or theft of firearms, their components, and their ammunition.
  • It says that any local gun laws that interfere with the right to bear arms; inhibits individuals from protecting themselves, their families, or others from intruders and attackers; or otherwise inhibits the legitimate use of firearms is preempted by the state of Ohio.
  • It keeps the requirement that when a local regulation is challenged, reasonable expenses must be awarded if the challenge prevails in court. But it adds that reasonable expenses are also awarded if the “ordinance, rule, regulation, resolution, practice, or action or the manner of its enforcement” is repealed or rescinded before the court makes a final determination.
  • It further defines reasonable expenses to include: attorney’s fees, court costs, expert witness fees, and compensation for loss of income.  And it says that any damages or expenses awarded must be awarded against, and paid by, the political subdivision.

The General Assembly passed the revisions in December 2018. Then-Gov. John Kasich vetoed the bill, but the House and Senate overrode the veto on Dec. 27.

S.B. 202 has been assigned to the General Government and Agency Review Committee, where the Buckeye Firearms Association (BFA) plans to voice its opposition.

Jim Irvine, board president of the gun-rights organization, said not everyone is aware of the history that led to the current, and future, versions of the law.

“Local control doesn’t work. We tried that for years and it doesn’t work,” he explains. “Before this section was enacted, Ohio had cities that would ban a gun because it was too small, too easy to conceal.  Others were banned because they were too big. Some were too inaccurate while others were too accurate. There were conflicting laws across the state.”

He said it was “impossible to comply with all the various gun laws of all the municipalities you might be in throughout a day.”

But after the current language was passed, local cities still passed laws contrary to the state law, Irvine says.

“So we’d go through the expense of filing the lawsuit and just when it gets to the end, they’d change the law and ask for the case to be dismissed,” he added. “In those cases, we don’t win. Therefore there is no compensation for expenses – no penalties for the cities. And then the cities would go right back to violating the law. We think that is wrong.”

BFA advocated for the new language. In a compromise with the municipalities, he says, the law didn’t take effect for a full year in order to give the cities time to understand and come into compliance with the new provisions.

Irvine says they will oppose S.B. 202, calling it a “clear-cut case for anyone who really looks at it.” He does not believe the bill will pass, saying it’s part of the political games everyone plays these days.

But, he says, it isn’t wasted time. “It’s always a continuation and learning that gives us the opportunity to educate a bunch of people, on both sides, who don’t know the history.”

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Maggie Leigh Thurber is a writer for The Ohio Star. Email tips to [email protected].







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