In the three years since Toledo City Council banned the sale and possession of cheap and easily concealed handguns, only eight people have been charged - and all but one of those charges were filed in 2000.
The law's low use was cited yesterday by council members wondering whether to allow the law to expire. A sunset provision in the original ordinance would cause the ordinance to expire Jan. 27. An ordinance drafted by the city law department would make the gun ban permanent.
Police Chief Mike Navarre gave council a summary of eight cases brought in the last three years. Seven were filed in 2000 and one in September, 2002. Defendants were convicted of the gun charge in two cases. The case brought in September is pending.
The chief urged council to repeal the sunset provision and allow police to have a tool for removing guns in some situations. He said officers simply may have forgotten about the law after using it seven times in 2000. “I would hate to take that tool away [from police officers],” Chief Navarre said. “I can't think of a reason to do so unless it's a philosophical one.”
Some suggested the law is not being used because it is too hard to tell which guns are illegal and which aren't.
Councilman Gene Zmuda recalled that former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner aggressively promoted the gun ban with arguments suggesting it was needed to stem a rising tide of violence.
“We were told that without this law our streets would not be safe. Now you're saying, `No big deal,'” Mr. Zmuda told representatives of the Ford administration.
Supporters of the ban said it restricts cheaply made and easily concealed guns that have no use except in crimes.
Critics of the handgun ban said it unfairly lumps some valuable guns under the general heading of cheap and dangerous “Saturday night specials.”
Council member Betty Shultz noted that one of the guns seized by Toledo police was a Smith & Wesson 38-Special, the same gun once issued to Toledo police but with a shorter barrel.
John Mueller, who said he represents the Ohio Constitution Defense Council, said people have the right to keep guns for self-defense.
“Handguns save more lives than they are taking through suicide and crimes,” Mr. Mueller said.
Amy Thompson, research director for the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said half of the guns used in crimes and 70 percent of those juveniles possess are Saturday night specials.
She compared the ordinance to the 25 mph speed limit on a street in her neighborhood. “Not a lot are cited, but would we remove the ordinance?” she asked.
If council votes on the ordinance Tuesday, as expected, it could require a tie-breaker from Mayor Jack Ford.
The ordinance passed 7-5 in 1999. Since then, two council members who voted for the ban have been replaced. One of the new council members, Republican George Sarantou, said yesterday he plans to oppose renewal of the law, setting up a possible 6-6 vote.
Chief Navarre told council that the mayor supports repeal of the sunset provision.