HB354: More Gun Control Addressing Non-Existent Problems

Seven weeks and counting: Public information requests for Mayor Jackson's "proof" of need for Bill go unanswered

By Ken Hanson

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is attempting to bring big-city, liberal gun control to a town near you. HB354, written by Mayor Jackson’s law department, was introduced October 16, 2007 by Rep. Williams and Rep. Boyd. Proponents of this Bill scream the typical “It is for the children!” mantra while hoping no one reads it.

A reading of the Bill shows Mayor Jackson is up to his old gun-banning tricks. This Bill has nothing to do with addressing the non-existent problem of juveniles walking around with guns and everything to do with banning guns and holding gun owners liable for the criminal acts of third parties.

Let’s start by examining what this Bill allegedly does. When first announced, Mayor Jackson lamented “We need action now and we are asking for swift enactment of this legislation so that we can begin to take guns out of the hands of our children and make our community safer.”

Needless to say, we at Buckeye Firearms Association were shocked to find out that Cleveland apparently has a problem with “children” walking around with guns and the city is powerless to do anything about it. Confused, we immediately submitted the following Public Records Request:

1. Copies of the research conducted by Mayor Jackson’s staff, as referred to in the press release.

2. For 1/1/04-present, records of cases where persons under age 21 were caught “brandishing” firearms and were released without any criminal charges.

3. For 1/1/04-present, records of cases where persons under age 21 were caught with firearms incident to arrest or other investigation and did not face any firearm charges.

4. For 1/1/04-present, records of cases where persons under age 21 were caught with firearms incident to arrest or other investigation and did not face any criminal charges at all.

5. For 1/1/04-present, records of all cases where someone was caught with a firearm incident to arrest or other investigation and were released without any criminal charges.

To our surprise and dismay, seven weeks later Cleveland still has not produced a single instance of a need to take a gun out of the hands of a “child” where they were powerless to do so.

Examining the Press Release’s claims further, we note:

1. The Mayor’s “research” includes “children” up to the age of 25.

2. The Mayor’s “research” makes absolutely no distinction or categorization between guns lawfully acquired and guns unlawfully acquired.

It might be an old-fashioned sentiment, but it seems hard to justify whether a law addresses a problem or not when Cleveland cannot even articulate what the problem is. As soon as Cleveland lays out the cases where “kids” got guns and the city was powerless to act, and as soon as Cleveland demonstrates that “kids” are somehow getting guns legally under current law, then, perhaps, it will be time to make the case for a new law.

Beyond the complete lack of justification for this law (possessing firearms is a fundamental right under the Ohio Constitution, the burden is on the city to demonstrate why the infringement of this right is needed and how the infringement addresses a legitimate governmental interest,) there are hidden pitfalls in this Bill that no one is talking about.

First, and most importantly, this Bill is a gun ban. Right now, under current law, someone 18 or older can possess a rifle or shotgun for home defense, with or without another adult present. HB354 completely bans these people, who may now lawfully own a gun, from buying/owning a gun, and these people may not possess a gun, even a long gun, unless under the direct supervision of an adult age 21 or over. Unless a 20 year old, who has their own apartment/house/job/baby/voting rights etc, is living with a 21 year old, they will be completely stripped of their right to even have a gun in their own home for defense. This clearly violates the Ohio Constitution.

Perhaps the most insidious provision of HB354 is the “under the radar” attempt to impose a nebulous “secure storage” standard on all gun owners. As written, if you “negligently fail to take proper precautions” and a criminal obtains your firearm, you are criminally responsible and will be charged with a First Degree Misdemeanor. Anyone care to guess how “reasonable” the “proper precautions” will be in Toledo or Cleveland? This provision is an open end invitation to charge any gun owner at any place or time with a crime simply for exercising a right. This criminalization of self-defense is inexcusable.

As with most gun control, the devil is in the details. In this case, Mayor Jackson has not made any justification of the need for this law, so that should be the death of the measure then and there. Beyond this, a review of the provisions show that this is a gun control measure, and like all gun control measures, will only impact the law-abiding. If this Bill gets more than sponsor testimony at a hearing in the House, the Ohio gun owner needs to be outraged.

There is no reason nonsense like HB354 should see any daylight, ever, especially given that urgently needed laws, like a fix for our unloaded transportation woes, remain stymied after 3 years and counting.

Ken Hanson is Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair and author of The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws.

Related Stories:
Cleveland Mayor Jackson proposes new gun control law

Plain Dealer Editorial: New gun laws wouldn't solve Cleveland's crime problem

Another newspaper op-ed recognizes the folly of Mayor Jackson's gun control

Cleveland Mayor 'All Wet' on Anti-Gun Proposal to Stem Crime

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