Columbus gun laws and courts

Columbus leaders' hypocrisy: We won't follow law, but you must follow ours

Columbus city officials expect its residents and businesses to abide by the city's new firearms ordinances or suffer the consequences of fines, jail time or both.

Yet those same extremist officials appear willing to ignore state law and a 2010 Ohio Supreme Court ruling — the former clearly stating municipalities have no home-rule authority to enact "general laws" related to firearms, and now knives, and the latter ruling that said state law is indeed constitutional.

In the end, it's the Columbus taxpayers who could suffer the real consequences for the actions of those who are responsible for their money.

The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, of course, is clear. The state law on preemption is clear. And the Ohio Supreme Court ruling is final — or at least it should have been: The state's law does not violate Article XVIII, Section 3, of the Ohio Constitution. (Scroll to PDF Page 130/148.)

The absurdity of it: Columbus leaders expect you to follow a law that itself is unlawful. Except, your "unlawful" actions would have legal consequences; theirs do not. The city has taken it upon itself to make a mockery of the law and high court.

Columbus isn't the first municipality to try this, but unless these sorts of actions are addressed with some level of permanence, it won't be the last.

Don't worry, though. Cleveland didn't get away with it, and neither will we let Columbus.

So how did we get here?

Here's some key background on state law, the Supreme Court's ruling, and what Columbus is doing, with a Fairfield County judge's blessing.

Ohio's 'general law': ORC 9.68

Ohio Revised Code Section 9.68, enacted in 2006, spells out not only the prohibitions against political subdivisions related to firearms and knives but also the remedies for those adversely affected by such ordinances.

The Ohio General Assembly's common-sense approach was simple: Bring uniformity to the state, superceding the patchwork of local firearms ordinances, which varied from one jurisdiction to the next.

Imagine, for example, a handful of municipalities requiring front license plates so that their police officers could run readers across them. Or suppose a few cities were to prohibit the use of LED headlights. Such local laws would create legal chaos and entrap otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Here's an excerpt of the law (see boldface text):

(A) The individual right to keep and bear arms, being a fundamental individual right that predates the United States Constitution and Ohio Constitution, and being a constitutionally protected right in every part of Ohio, the general assembly finds the need to provide uniform laws throughout the state regulating the ownership, possession, purchase, other acquisition, transport, storage, carrying, sale, other transfer, manufacture, taxation, keeping, and reporting of loss or theft of firearms, their components, and their ammunition, and knives. The general assembly also finds and declares that it is proper for law-abiding people to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves or others. Except as specifically provided by the United States Constitution, Ohio Constitution, state law, or federal law, a person, without further license, permission, restriction, delay, or process, including by any ordinance, rule, regulation, resolution, practice, or other action or any threat of citation, prosecution, or other legal process, may own, possess, purchase, acquire, transport, store, carry, sell, transfer, manufacture, or keep any firearm, part of a firearm, its components, and its ammunition, and any knife. Any such further license, permission, restriction, delay, or process interferes with the fundamental individual right described in this division and unduly inhibits law-abiding people from protecting themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers and from other legitimate uses of constitutionally protected arms, including hunting and sporting activities, and the state by this section preempts, supersedes, and declares null and void any such further license, permission, restriction, delay, or process.

(B) A person, group, or entity adversely affected by any manner of ordinance, rule, regulation, resolution, practice, or other action enacted or enforced by a political subdivision in conflict with division (A) of this section may bring a civil action against the political subdivision seeking damages from the political subdivision, declaratory relief, injunctive relief, or a combination of those remedies. Any damages awarded shall be awarded against, and paid by, the political subdivision.

Ohio Supreme Court's 2010 ruling

The city of Cleveland and then-Mayor Frank Jackson took an extremist view, claiming the state law is a violation of the Ohio Constitution and filing a declaratory judgment in March 2007 in hopes of keeping the new law from taking effect. It took three levels of court action to reach an ultimate conclusion.

The key to the Supreme Court's 5-2 decision in Cleveland v State of Ohio was in deciding whether ORC 9.68 is a general law. The trial court said it was. Then the appeals court said it wasn't. But the Supreme Court concluded it indeed was a general law and therefore does not violate the Ohio Constitution.

The conclusion:

R.C. 9.68 addresses the General Assembly’s concern that absent a uniform law throughout the state, law abiding gun owners would face a confusing patchwork of licensing requirements, possession restrictions, and criminal penalties as they travel from one jurisdiction to another. We hold that R.C. 9.68 is a general law that displaces municipal firearm ordinances and does not unconstitutionally infringe on municipal home rule authority. Moreover, we hold that the authorization for awards of attorney fees and costs in R.C. 9.68 does not violate the separation of powers doctrine.

Columbus' actions and a Fairfield County judge's ruling

It appears Columbus' leaders haven't learned from Cleveland's repeated failures, deciding instead to waste taxpayer money on trying its own hand at ignoring settled law. At first, they looked to sound an alarm over a public health crisis but apparently abandoned that idea. Instead, Columbus City Council on Dec. 5 passed firearms ordinances.

As passed by City Council, the new ordinances, which went into effect at midnight Jan. 21:

  • Ban "large capacity magazines" that could hold 30 or more rounds or could be converted to accept that many rounds. This misdemeanor would result in a mandatory 180 consecutive days in jail without work release, and potentially up to one year, and a $1,500 fine.
  • Add to the crimes of negligent homicide and negligent assault "storing or leaving a deadly weapon" in one's residence in a manner in which a minor could reasonably be anticipated to gain access to it. Storing weapons in a safe gun case or with a trigger lock would be presumed to have exercised due care. Violators face a third-degree misdemeanor, or — if a juvenile gains access to the weapon — a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Having a weapon on them in their home or in their "immediate control" would not be a violation.
  • Prohibit anyone from recklessly selling, lending, giving or furnishing a firearm to any other person who is known or there is reasonable cause to believe they can't legally possess it. A violator could face a first-degree misdemeanor.

Fairfield County Judge Richard Berens on Jan. 20 (Case No. 2022 CV 00657) ruled that the city could move forward, saying in part: "In this matter, the Court finds that the Plaintiff (Ohio Attorney General's office) has not established by clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that Plaintiff will prevail on the merits."

Basically, Berens is saying the state has not shown convincing evidence of a constitutional violation by the city. It's rather ironic, though, considering the Supreme Court already has decided the state's law itself is not a constitutional violation.

Robert Triozzi, Cleveland's law director at the time, recognized the impact of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision, according to a story on

"The impact is that municipalities can no longer take reasonable action to protect their citizens from the unique impact of gun violence in an urban environment, notwithstanding the numerous acts of gun violence throughout the state in the almost five years since the legislature passed a 'comprehensive' gun safety law in this state," he said in a statement.

Of course, that didn't stop then Mayor Jackson from another failed attempt to circumvent state law. In fact, it took another judge to tell them to knock it off. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan in May 2011 ordered Cleveland to stop any enforcement of 19 separate local gun control ordinances, effective immediately.

Where do we go from here?

As previously mentioned, if Columbus' new gun laws are allowed to stand, the floodgates will open for other cities to ignore state law and move forward with similar ordinances.

We disagree with Berens and believe the case against Columbus will prevail on the merits.

Berens also said he finds that the plaintiff hasn't demonstrated that Ohio's citizens "will suffer irreparable injury" by allowing the city to move forward.

We disagree on that point, too: Injury first could come to anyone charged with a misdemeanor; then injury could come to Columbus taxpayers, who would be on the hook for the costs to undo it all.

Regardless, until leaders in political subdivisions are forced to face consequences for their actions, what incentive do they have to stop trying? Just as they expect their residents to face fines and jail time for violations of their laws, they, too, should be held accountable for doing likewise.

They are not above the law.

Joe D. "Buck" Ruth is a longtime small-game hunter and gun owner who spent nearly three decades in the news industry. In his spare time, he enjoys playing his bass guitar, going fishing and searching for buried treasure with his metal detector.

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