Caught on tape: Dem's Sec. State candidate Maryellen O'Shaughnessy defending Columbus gun ban
By Chad D. Baus
Less than two weeks after the Ohio Democrat Party leaders, and Governor Ted Strickland, announced they would not support the candidacy of Jennifer Garrison for Secretary of State due to concerns about her support for gun rights, among other issues, the Democrats' anti-gun replacement, Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, has officially announced her candidacy for the office.
To fully understand the level of O'Shaughnessy's opposition to gun rights, one need only to go back to late 2006. In November of that year, the Ohio General Assembly voted to pass HB347, legislation designed to ensure uniformity of firearms laws in the state of Ohio, by an overwhelming margin. Despite its level of support, Republican Governor Bob Taft vetoed the legislation, forcing the General Assembly to return and override his veto in mid-December.
Five days after the veto override, O'Shaughnessy, then a city councilwoman, appeared on Capitol Square, an Ohio News Network (ONN panel show hosted by John Fortney, to voice the city's displeasure with passage of the law, which rendered they City of Columbus' assault weapons ban defunct.
Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair Ken Hanson was also a guest that day.
After introducing the panel, which consisted of Hanson, O'Shaughnessy and two members of the Columbus media, the discussion began with Fortney asking Hanson what was wrong with the old law, and why the change was necessary.
"There's a substantial list of things that are wrong with the original concealed carry legislation, House Bill 12. The biggest problems we were having statewide dealt with the car carry, car transportation issues. Those were the most immediate concerns," Hanson explained. "You literally had Korean war vets and World War II vets that have never been in trouble in their lives - they go out, they take the training, get the license, and are trying to transport the handgun, because our law is the only concealed carry law in the nation that places restrictions on license-holders when they're in a car - they're running afoul of these felony laws. So we were definitely getting a lot of accidental felons, and that was a priority to fix.
"The other major problem we were having was a lot of municipalities were attempting to further regulate what license-holders could and could not do. And that was and still is causing problems for license-holders."
Fortney followed up by asking Hanson "what's so wrong with [municiplities passing additional regulations] when it comes to firearms legislation?"
"Well, I have a license to practice law in Ohio. When I go to Toledo or Cleveland or Cincinnati or wherever I can practice law in that city and I've got a pretty good idea how to do it," Hanson said. "It should be the same with my license to carry a concealed handgun. I don't have to look up, when I'm going into a city, to see whether a particular handgun is legal for me to carry in that city. It's an idea of putting everyone on notice - giving them one set of rules to follow - so that they have a reasonable chance of complying with the law."
Fortney then turned his attention to O'Shaughnessy:
"Maryellen, Columbus is really upset about this."
"Absolutely," she agreed.
"I know the Mayor has been very outspoken because of the assault weapons ban tied into the summertime and year-round task force on gangs," Fortney continued. "What is the bottom-line message from the City of Columbus about the new legislation?" O'Shaughnessy replied:
"The fact is that 700 and nearly 20,000 people who live in the City of Columbus have overwhelmingly told us that safety is the number one issue - over and over again. And I can tell you that over 70% of our budget is directed towards safety. This is an overriding concern not only of city council but also of the administration. When the federal government allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, and the state government did nothing to make sure that our citizens were safe, we as a city felt that we had to do - uh, after, as we're elected, you know, to protected the health safety and welfare of the people that we serve - uh, we felt we had no other choice, uh, other than to go forward and do our best and our due diligence to make sure that there was an assault weapons ban in place that could be enforced. Uh, we've had that in place for about a year and a half now, uh, this is, again, this is about safety in a dense urban population that is very different than the suburban and rural areas of our state. Uh, and we're offended that we have a big brother here, uh, in the form of state government telling us what we can and cannot do. There is a home rule, uh, um, uh, provision in the Ohio Constitution that I believe this flies in the face of. And that's the essence of it."
Mark Maurer, of the Columbus Dispatch's "This Week" Newspapers posed a follow-up question:
"I wonder, Maryellen, on the home rule question, were you personally in favor of the statewide ban on cigarette smoking? It seemed like that had pretty wide support."
O'Shaughnessy: "Th-th-th-there's a difference here. I-I absolutely. Absolutely."
Maurer continued: "Well, and see, this is the issue. You get these procedural questions and people are always wanting to wave that flag but everybody - and this happens on all sides of the issues - moves up and down."
"Right. Right. Right. I think that's a good, I think that's a good point. Uh, uh we have a, wi-wi-with cigarettes you have an opportunity to go outside and smoke. There-th-there is no, uh, the-the wh-when we come to something like assault weapons we're talking about bullets, uh, we're talking about bullets that can go through quarter-inch steel. We're talking about, uh, we're talking about s-something that can, uh, uh, go through a police officer's vest. We're talking about something th-that, you can hear it over and over again when people use assault, uh, weapons they go through houses, they go through walls - several walls in a house, uh, killing people, in-innocent people inside their homes. Uh, we have a duty to defend people in this type of en-environment. And understand that, uh, what, uh, when we talk about uniformity, uh, you're trying to superimpose a rule on a city that is very different than an ur- than a rural population here. Uh, I was thinking of, uh, I did a little research on, on Mr. Aslanides - and I hope I'm saying his name right - he's from Coshocton County. There are 35,000 people in Coshocton County. Uh, this is uh, you know, uh, uh, basically a rural population, uh, where you're going to be able to use something like an assault weapon in target practice - and in a much safer manner than you could in a city. Uh, Uh, I, I would have a problem with somebody transporting assault weapons through the City of Columbus because that gives them an opportunity... These things are designed to kill, and we don't want them in the City of Columbus and we should have the right to be able to make that decision to, uh, make sure that our population is safe."
Fortney posed a second follow-up question:
"...The bottom line from the City of Columbus. How has the assault weapons ban been beneficial? Because it always gets back to the old line about, you know, only criminals are the people that are going to use these things in a criminal way, and not the law-abiding citizens. So what's the message about that?"
"Right. Right. Well, the message is that we need to make sure that our police officers have every tool that they need to be successful here. Uh, there are a variety of rules on the books and when one rule is taken away we have an opportunity to impose another rule that, that, that helps them, uh, when they catch the bad guys uh, to uh, to uh, uh, to uh, you know, charge them with something that may stick. Uh, here we've got an opportunity here when we, when we, uh, take those gangs, uh, those gang members of the street, uh, to, to use this local ordinance uh, to, uh charge them with an additional uh, uh, uh, um, offense."
Hanson then responded:
"Let me point out that I understand that this ban was predominantly pushed by council member Mentel and he was unable to be here this morning, and I wish he would have been able to.
"First of all, guns are not designed to kill. They're designed to put a projectile on a target. What the user does with that is what determines it. We don't blame a hammer for building a house. These local ordinances punish as misdemeanors these crimes. Look at the Maurice Clarett case. He was dead-to-rights in violation of the Columbus assault weapons ban (O'Shaughnessy shown nodding her head). He was not charged for violating that assault weapons ban. Why? Because any crime you can commit in Ohio with a gun is already a felony. I mean, these local ordinances are not being used to punish people that are committing crimes because the people that commit the crimes are already being punished with a felony, meaning that the city cannot charge them and give them a tool or something to impose a sanction on the people that are committing crimes with these guns."
Fortney then asked Hanson a follow-up question:
"As a prosecutor yourself you would have to think that you would be sympathetic to cities that do have problems with gangs and so forth and so on. Is there a better way to prosecute them under existing law. Is that your message?"
"Absolutely. Absolutely," said Hanson. "You know, Rhine McLin, the mayor of Dayton, was talking about, 'well, we have a gunfire problem.' We already have a statue on the books that deals with gunfire. 'We have a problem with people shooting at police.' We already have a statue on the books dealing with shooting at police. I mean, all these things are addressed.
"Reviewing your news cast this morning before we came here, they're talking about the safe storage. Someone is being sentenced in Franklin County this morning for her baby getting ahold of crack cocaine. We don't have a law requiring people to safely store their crack cocaine. I mean, we already have a law on point about endangering children. All these tools are already in the box, and the idea that a local ordinance is going to add to that...no, the only one the local ordinance is going to impact is the people that are inclined to follow them."
After a commercial break, O'Shaughnessy was given opportunity to respond to Hanson's observation that there are enough rules on the books already:
"One of the things that I needed to point out is that, uh, the federal government, uh, the ten year assault weapons ban had expired, right? And then the state did nothing to, to make sure that our citizens were safe from assault weapons. So we felt that we...we felt there was a need, uh, to make sure that people in the City of Columbus had an opportunity to be safe and thatour police officers had a tool, uh, you know, a, uh local ordinance i-in the absence of the federal assault weapons ban (unintelligible) to make sure that they've got every, every tool that they need in their arsenal to fight the bad guys who tend to have AK-47s and other uh, uh, uh assault weapons that can fire 60 rounds a minute, uh, that can, as I said, that can cut through quarter-inch steel, um, things like that. It's totally unacceptable."
Hanson then noted that "the large part of the reason that the federal ban expired was because they did study after study and were unable to find any correlation between the ban and stopping them from shooting at police or reducing crime.
"I mean, like I said, we've already...you say we don't have anything specific to assault weapons. That's because we have a statue that's specific to all weapons. You cannot use them against police. You can't walk out into your back yard and start plinking at cans in the City of Columbus or any other place because we already have a statue. I mean, kind of what we keep coming back to is the local ordinances are entirely superfluous to laws that are already on the books and they're never going to be used to impact the criminals."
The discussion then moved to the success of Ohio's concealed carry law to that point in time, before the focus returned to O'Shaughnessy.
The fourth panelist that day was Karen Kasler, the bureau chief for Ohio Public Radio and Television, and she directed another question to O'Shaughnessy.
"I also wanted to ask you, Maryellen. One of the things that's been said by the Ohio Municipal League, by Governor Taft, is that home rule is under attack.
"Absolutely," said O'Shaughnessy.
"But then in some of the testimony and some of the statements on the House and Senate floor, there were lines like, 'well, the state overrules home rule all the time,'" Kasler continued. "It doesn't allow communities to put up stop signs on I-71, for example. There are reasons to over rule home rule."
"Well, yeah, may- possibly. You know, this is a, uh constant debate. But the Ohio Municipal League says this is a continuing eight year attack on home rule. And I find it rather ironic, Karen, that, that, uh, this is happening when you have a legislature - both the Senate and the House - primarily Republican. And historically Republicans have been about home rule, about state rights, and, and things like that. ...It seems to me we have a legislature that is trying to impose its will, uh, on, on areas that they don't quite understand."
Fortney then asked O'Shaughnessy what the City of Columbus planned to do next:
" I don't believe we're going to let this rest. I don't believe that we are charged to let this rest. I think that we have to do our best to make sure that people understand the issue and have the opportunity to weigh in on it. Uh, I, I do understand that the Supreme Court, uh, uh, had a ruling, uh, what, it's a week before this saying that there was no law on the books, uh, regarding, uh, um, um, you know, home rule and local gun ordinances. And now that there's a law on the books that gives, uh, gives us difficulty going back to, to the Ohio Supreme Court. Uh, but what we can do is do the same thing that we did with smoking. make sure that people are, uh, uh, aware, informed and we have a statewide, um, opportunity to have this discussion and see if people can vote on it."
Hanson added that "I would expect a Dayton or a Cincinnati or a Columbus or Toledo or someone to challenge it in court. That is not unexpected. The Baskin decision, which is what you were talking about from two Fridays ago, this legislation was written in anticipation of that decision. We feel it's tailored exactly to it. That doesn't mean that someone's not going to to challenge it, but I think what the law is doing is already working because the burdens are back where they belong - it's on the city to go back and sue the state rather than on a client of mine to come up with the money to force the issue. The burden is back between the state and the cities to decide it (and the expense)."
As a Columbus city council member, O'Shaughnessy voted in favor of that city's now-defunct "assault" weapons ban (better known in pro-gun circles as the Mentel Ban, named after its primary sponsor Mike Mentel).
And on October 24, 2000, the Columbus Dispatch reported that "O'Shaughnessy...opposes allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons and supports mandatory trigger locks on all handguns, mandatory background checks for those purchasing firearms at gun shows and
tougher sentences for those committing crimes with guns."
State Senator Jon Husted, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Secretary of State, was Speaker of the House in 2006, and often expresses pride of the fact that the House overrode Gov. Taft's veto of HB347 during his time at the helm.
Come November, if the ballot reads Husted v. O'Shaughnessy for Secretary of State, gun owners couldn't ask for a more clear choice.
Chad Baus is Vice Chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association, and a Member of the Fulton County, OH, Republican Central Committee.
View a compilation of Maryellen O'Shaughnessy's December 17, 2006 statements in defense of the Columbus "assault" weapons ban:
View the December 17, 2006 Capitol Square show in its entirety: