Judge strikes some of Cleveland's latest gun control regulations, others upheld

Cleveland.com is reporting that a county court has "axed" several of Cleveland’s expansive gun ordinances adopted last year, while upholding others.

From the article:

On Monday, Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland-Saffold knocked out Cleveland’s firearms ordinances in four ways.

The first found the city’s definition of “automatic firearm” to include semi-autos capable of firing more than 31 rounds without reloading to be unconstitutional. The second held the city’s law that no person could fire a gun within 500 feet of any park, playground or recreation center owned by the city was invalid as exceeding state law. On a third point, Strickland-Saffold ruled Cleveland’s seizure and confiscation ordinance allowing police to collect weapons from those suspected of drinking or threatening a disturbance violated state carry laws.

Finally, the court held an ordinance changing the penalty for defacing a firearm from what the state allows was unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, Judge Strickland-Saffold upheld a provision that requires people who aren't gun dealers to report the sale of guns or weapons. The State of Ohio has 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 provision is not likely to withstand a higher court's review.

The judge also upheld a rule that prohibits leaving a firearm where it can be accessed by someone under the age of 18.  In this ordinance, Cleveland attempts to regulate actions that are already prohibited Ohio law, and the penalty is a felony. Cleveland law attempts to change the penalty to a misdemeanor. The Ohio Supreme Court already held municipalities may not attempt to make a felony a misdemeanor. This provision is also not likely to withstand a higher court's review.

Other portions of the ordinances that were upheld include things that were already prohibited by state law, such as:

  • requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms.
  • a ban on the negligent transfer of firearms to someone who is intoxicated or is a convicted felon (state law already prohibits reckless transfer).
  • failing to secure a dangerous ordnance, such as an explosive material or device.

These ordinances are, almost, a word-for-word restatement of state law. The only changes are formatting, numbering, or deleting the felony-level content of the state law (since municipalities cannot regulate felonies).

These ordinances are not “giving the police tools they need,” “closing loopholes in state law,” or accomplishing anything new at all. Rather, the proposed ordinances parrot current state law.

Some might say, “If it is already state law, there is no harm in Cleveland passing the same law.” What would this accomplish? Confusion, redundancy, potential for lawsuits, anger, political headaches etc. All of these things are already regulated by the state in the same manner that Cleveland proposes, and Cleveland 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.

Finally, Judge Strickland-Saffold upheld the city's "gun offender registry." While it's nice to note that the City of Cleveland is finally (accidentally?) recognizing that violence is a person problem, not a tool problem, this is one more gun control law that will do nothing to prevent crime.

The City of Cleveland in general, and Mayor Frank Jackson in particular, have a long history of introducing gun control laws to mask the fact that they have failed to address the crime problems plaguing their city.

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.)

For over a decade, organizations such as Buckeye Firearms Association have worked tirelessly to ensure that Ohio has one clear set of firearm laws that are uniform throughout the state.

"Cleveland has a long history of ignoring the rights of Ohio citizens when it comes to firearms," said Ken Hanson, legal counsel for Buckeye Firearms Association. "And they have a history of ignoring state law."

"By passing HB347, which became law in 2007, the Ohio General Assembly clearly sent a message to municipalities that they must abide by state law and cannot make up their own laws to regulate firearms."

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.

[Editor's Note: Portions of this analysis are taken from Buckeye Firearms Association's Executive Summary of the Cleveland ordinances provided to the Cleveland City Council during their debate on the issue.]

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