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Ohio Senate Democrats attempting to repeal state’s firearm preemptions


Ohio Senate Democrats attempting to repeal state’s firearm preemptions

Jun 05, 2023 | 4:50 am ET
By Nick Evans
Ohio Senate Democrats attempting to repeal state’s firearm preemptions
COLUMBUS, OH — FEBRUARY 22: State Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, during the Ohio Senate session, February 22, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Two Democrats in the Ohio Senate want to ensure local governments can regulate firearms. State law currently reserves such decisions for the General Assembly — although there has been some pushback in court. Still, given Republicans’ reticence to take any steps that could be seen as limiting access to guns, it seems unlikely the Democratic measure will advance.

Local control

About fifteen years ago, state lawmakers took control of gun policy with an act finding “the need to provide uniform laws throughout the state.”

That statute’s prohibitions for local governments are sweeping. The law barred cities from approving any ordinances limiting a person’s right to “own, possess, purchase, sell, transfer, transport, store, or keep any firearm, part of a firearm, its components, and its ammunition.”

In 2018, lawmakers expanded those preemptions further, this time prohibiting restrictions on “acquiring, carrying and manufacturing” firearms or their components.

Sens. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, and Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, want to change that.

“Our local officials see gun deaths and injuries far too often, and far too closely in their communities,” Craig argued. “Cities and townships in Ohio have sought to introduce many measures to curb the impact of gun violence in their communities but have been obstructed by measures of the legislature.”

He added that lawmakers should give deference to local leaders who have to address the issue on a day-to-day basis.

“While solutions to gun violence may not be a one size fit all,” he said, “We must allow our local governments to fully function with legislative autonomy on this serious issue.”

Ingram emphasized the hypocrisy of first tying local governments’ hands and then criticizing cities for rising crime.

“Most of the time when things happen in those neighborhoods. what we hear is how ‘raucous’ and ‘out of control’ and the ‘people who handle the guns’ et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” Ingram said. “The reality is that without being able to have some say in how that looks, you will continue to have those kinds of situations.”

Preemption context

Local officials have long bristled at state lawmakers encroaching on the home rule authority the state constitution guarantees. The fact of those incursions coming from supposedly “small government” conservatives adds insult to injury, local government advocates have said.

And Ohio lawmakers’ adventures in local preemption aren’t limited to firearms. One notable failure was a measure last year attempting to prohibit local regulations on flavored tobacco. Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed that bill.

The latest firearm proposal lawmakers are considering would prohibit local officials from requiring gun owners purchase insurance. The sponsors couldn’t name a single municipality in the state that has even floated the idea. It passed the Senate in April, and gets its second House committee hearing this week.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers want to eliminate not only local firearm laws but also remove any reference to federal firearm provisions in state law. Supporters suggest this will keep federal agencies from commandeering local officers to enforce federal law. The proposal winds up going much further though — threatening both basic investigative resources and the job prospects of former federal employees in Ohio.

In 2019, Columbus officials sued the state to overturn the local firearm preemptions. They have three relatively modest restrictions in mind. The city would penalize straw purchases, require gun owners store their weapons safely, and prohibit large capacity magazines.

After three years, the city got a favorable ruling in Common Pleas Court, but the judge stayed his injunction on Ohio’s law while the state appeals. Oral arguments in that appeal are scheduled to begin later this month.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.