Cleveland council president claims new gun control law was never about violence, but "values"

On Monday, April 20, and after nine months of debate that included receiving testimony from Buckeye Firearms Association's Ken Hanson, the Cleveland City Council passed a watered-down version of gun control legislation that had been proposed by Mayor Frank Jackson in 2014.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, after passing the law, Council President Kevin Kelley stated that "the legislation was not designed to stop gun violence. Rather, it is a reflection of council's values and is good public policy intended to encourage responsible gun ownership."

That is an interesting admission on a number of levels.

First, many are making note of the fact that Kelley is admitting that it is the City of Cleveland's policy to pass gun control laws whether they are expected to work or not, and this is indeed a rare moment of honesty by a gun control proponent. "The legislation was not designed to stop gun violence. Rather, it is a reflection of council's values ..."  That is gun control in a nutshell. 

But that isn't all. Kelley's admission is also notable because it flies in the face of a statement he made last year, when the proposals were first introduced. In a press release issued by the mayor's office last year, Kelley said "gun violence has taken far too many lives in our community. The City of Cleveland must act aggressively to address this issue."

So when the proposal was first made public Kelley said it was intended to be an aggressive act to address gun violence, but when it was passed he says it was never intended to stop gun violence. Got that?

According to the Plain Dealer, Councilman Zack Reed drove home the point that the bill won't do what its supporters once claimed it was intended to do. Again, from the article:

Reed argued during the committee meeting Monday that the legislation is powerless to address gun violence in the city. He said that Chicago has even more restrictive gun laws, yet that city's homicide rate is as high as ever.

He challenged Horvath and Safety Director Michael McGrath to explain if any of the 25 homicides committed in Cleveland so far this year could have been prevented by the new law.

"The problem I have with this legislation is that you're giving me a shot of penicillin to get over the flu, but I'm dying of a gun shot wound," Reed said. "You brought the legislation to us to deal with this problem, but you can't tell us how. So you're just trying to appease us."

Even Safety Director Michael McGrath admitted that he "could make no guarantees about the law's efficacy." And Councilman Michael Polensek said he would vote for the legislation but doesn't expect it to have an impact on the city's violent crime rate.

"So we pass this legislation tonight, but what does it really mean?" Polensek said. "I think there are going to be some people who think that as a result of this passage, things will dramatically change in this city. And they are not, because the bad guys are not turning in their guns. The bad guys are not registering. The kids who want to shoot indiscriminately on the street won't stop."

So what exactly does this admittedly impotent law seek to do?

According to the Plain Dealer, when signed into law, the ordinance sets the following restrictions:

  • Prohibits carrying a concealed deadly weapon or handgun, unless the person is a police officer or a person who holds a license to carry a concealed weapon.
  • Requires a person who sells or transfers a gun, and who is not a licensed gun dealer, to report such transactions to police.
  • Requires an owner to report a lost or stolen gun to police.
  • Creates a gun offender registry, requiring people convicted of gun crimes to register their names with Cleveland's Safety Director.
  • Prohibits the display, marking or sale of a facsimile firearm and prohibits brandishing a facsimile firearm in the presence of law enforcement or with the intent to frighten people.
  • Prohibits the negligent transfer of a firearm to a felon or intoxicated person.
  • Sets restrictions for firearms in the hands of minors and restricts discharging firearms in public areas, including schools, churches, cemeteries, playgrounds and parks.
  • Requires owners to safely store firearms to keep them from being stolen or out of the hands of children.

As BFA's Ken Hanson informed the council in his testimony last fall, several of these things are already regulated by the state in the same manner that the City of Cleveland proposes, and they city has the full, unlimited ability to use these existing state laws. Ohio already expressed the intent for firearm laws to be uniform across Ohio, and courts recognize the power of the General Assembly to do so. There is no legitimate government interest served by Cleveland making this same conduct illegal a second time. Passage of these proposed ordinances gives Cleveland no new power or tools. 

As for other requirements, such as the provision which demands that a person who sells or transfers a gun, and who is not a licensed gun dealer, to report such transactions to police, the City of Cleveland is attempting to regulate gun sales in a manner conflicting with R.C. 9.68 (Ohio's statewide preemption law). Ohio already established that all Ohioans have the right to purchase and sell firearms, unless restricted by state or federal law, and municipalities may not further regulate this conduct. This will no doubt be part of court challenges to this law.

One item in the ordinance that the Plain Dealer did not mention in its coverage is a provision authorizing police to seize a gun from someone who has been "drinking, disturbing the peace, threatening harm and the officer has reasonable cause to believe the deadly weapon may be used." As Hanson informed the council, this provision is also not likely to pass court review:

Ohio established a comprehensive framework regulating when police may or may not seize firearms, when the firearm may be forfeited, the process, procedure and due process protections etc. This is set forth in R.C. 2923.163 and R.C. 2981.04. Cleveland is well aware of this, as last December the city paid Derrick Washington $6,750 for his $400 gun. (See Cleveland pays out settlement in gun lawsuit, will review law over weapon seizures, Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 18, 2013.) Ohio already established a thorough framework regulating this subject matter and intended for it to be uniform throughout the state of Ohio. Cleveland’s proposed 627.12 weakens, or ignores, the safeguards and procedures set forth in state law and will almost certainly be found to conflict with state law.

Other items not mentioned in news coverage are provisions which allowing people to turn in "illegal firearms" without a written statement and without risking prosecution for possessing an "illegal firearm" (Hanson had informed the council that this provision is, like so many others, duplicative of state law and unneeded) and outlawing the sale of brass knuckles and advanced martial arts weapons to anyone other than law enforcement officers.

While Jackson's original gun control proposal included limiting legal purchases guns to once every 90 days, that provision was not included as part of the ordinance that was passed on Monday.

To demonstrate that support for impotent gun control laws is not new to Cleveland, a little history lesson is in order.

When Mayor Jackson took office in January of 2006, the City of Cleveland was enforcing a so-called "assault" weapons ban. With passage of HB 347 late that same year, the ban was rendered unenforceable. Jackson immediately set about to complain that he could no longer prosecute people for crimes committed with these guns, and that the loss of that tool had directly resulted in Cleveland’s increasing violent crime problem. The mayor even staged press conferences behind a table of scary-looking guns, implying that they had been confiscated through the now-defunct ban.

We challenged the media to investigate whether or not Jackson's claims were true.  Getting the answer would be easy for a responsible journalist to do - if the city was having troubles prosecuting offenses in the absence of the ban, that would show through a significant drop in convictions related to those offenses. No one at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, or any other news organization, for that matter, took it upon themselves to investigate. So we did.

Public records requests by Buckeye Firearms Association revealed that in all of 2006, Jackson's first year in office, there was not one single person charged with a violation of Cleveland’s assault weapons ban. That’s right, not even one. 

In 2007 (before HB347 took effect), there was one person prosecuted for a violation of Cleveland’s bans. The case never made it to trial because the Grand Jury returned a “no bill”, meaning they didn’t even find the enough evidence of a crime for the case to move forward to a trial.

In the mayor’s entire tenure, not only had the City of Cleveland not convicted a single person under their so-called assault weapons ban; they never even took one case to trial!

Even going back to 2005, we found only two people charged with violating Cleveland’s ban. They either pled, or were found guilty. Obviously, the (not so) big drop in convictions for this now-defunct law had nothing to do with Cleveland’s crime problem. That's because the City of Cleveland has rarely used its gun control laws against criminals before, and they won't now. (In fact, our investigation revealed far more about an administration that is soft on gun crime than about inanimate objects causing their woes. Not only did the city fail to enforce their ordinances, but they let bad guys go.)

When a mayor and police chief stand up and publicly announce that they are plotting to openly refuse to follow the law, they are behaving exactly like the criminals they claim to be seeking to bring to justice.

When a mayor and police chief refuse to do things that are proven to reduce crime, and instead commit their city to spending time, money, and resources on things that can't possibly reduce crime and/or are illegal, it is gross negligence. It's no surprise that crime is up in Cleveland. What else would anyone expect when the city "leaders" are part of the problem instead of part of the solution?

As he has so many times before, Mayor Jackson (and his co-conspirator Council President Kevin Kelley) is once again attempting some slight of hand to divert attention from his city's very real crime problems.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.

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