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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Court OKs guns in public parks; Clyde ban ruled in conflict with Ohio concealed-carry law

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday ruled people may carry guns in public parks.

The 4-3 decision found that a ban imposed by the Sandusky County city of Clyde conflicted with Ohio s concealed-carry law that did not mention municipal parks in its litany of places where guns would still be off-limits.

The city adopted its ordinance in 2004, arguing that the state law passed several months earlier violated the city s constitutional right to home rule. The ordinance was challenged by Ohioans for Concealed Carry, Inc.

This decision is also likely to affect a Toledo park regulation that the court described as strikingly similar to Clyde s ordinance as well as bans passed in other cities such as Cleveland. A beneficiary of timing, Toledo s ban had been upheld in the courts before the General Assembly enacted a follow-up law that flatly prohibited local governments from enforcing gun laws more restrictive than federal or state law.

The General Assembly could not have been more direct in expressing its intent for statewide comprehensive handgun-possession laws, wrote Justice Terrence O Donnell for the majority.

The 2004 state law allowed law-abiding and licensed Ohioans for the first time to legally carry hidden handguns while still prohibiting guns in police stations, sheriffs offices, prisons, airports, mental institutions, courthouses, government buildings, colleges and universities, churches, school property, child day-care centers, bars, alcohol-serving restaurants and arenas, and any place off-limits under federal law.

The law also allowed shops, offices, and other private property owners to post signs prohibiting guns on their premises.

The statute is not arbitrary in its differentiation between private and public property, wrote Justice O Donnell.

The distinction between private and public property merely reflects that private landowners can restrict access to their property in many ways public owners cannot.

He was joined in the majority by Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O Connor, and Robert Cupp.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer disagreed, calling the state law arbitrary and unreasonable.

Suppose that there are two parks in Clyde on opposite sides of the street, he wrote. Park A is owned by the city, and Park B is owned by a private corporation. At Park A, a person with the requisite license could carry a concealed handgun at the park The city is powerless to change this fact

The owner of [Park B] can decide to forbid concealed handguns for any reason or no reason, and anyone who violates that decision could be charged with criminal trespass, a fourth-degree misdemeanor, he wrote.

He was joined in the minority by Justices Judith Lanzinger and Paul Pfeifer.

Is there any reason why the owner of this property, where families gather and children play, should be forced to allow people with guns to enter, while the private owner of a public space such as a shopping mall can bar from entry any gun-carrying citizens? Justice Pfeifer asked.

In 2005, Bruce Beatty openly defied Toledo s ordinance and was cited for carrying a 45-caliber handgun into West Toledo s Ottawa Park. Despite yesterday s ruling, his conviction stands because the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

This has nothing to do with rule of law, state constitution, or U.S. Constitution, said Mr. Beatty, now living in Texas. This has to do with the anti-firearms freedom agenda on the part of the city of Toledo as a government that somehow thinks under its oath of office that it can tell us which rights we can enjoy and which we can t.

More recently, Toledo has not enforced its park ban along with local ordinances dealing with registration of gun owners and the carrying of weapons in public because of the prohibition language added with the follow-up concealed-carry law in 2005.

As long as Bruce has got his concealed-carry permit as issued by the sheriff, he ll be OK [carrying in public parks], said John Madigan, Toledo s general counsel.

We re not going to charge people for that park violation. But if someone doesn t have that permit, he ll be charged just like in the old days.

Toledo s ordinances remain on the books, however, and the city is placing its bets with yet another case in which Cleveland is challenging the broader prohibition against stricter local gun laws.

Jeff Garvis, founder of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, said the organization will use this Supreme Court ruling to try to have the Cleveland case dismissed.

This [decision] is going to have statewide impact on more than just parks, he said. The original challenge was narrow, but the court just basically said you can t pass a local police power that conflicts with Ohio s gun laws.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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