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Published: Thursday, 12/30/2010

Ohio Supreme Court denies cities gun-law authority

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld a 2006 law that allows the state, rather than cities, to determine firearm restrictions.

The decision means gun owners traveling among Ohio cities won't have to worry about variations in gun restrictions along the way, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said after Wednesday's ruling.

Cleveland had challenged the state on grounds that the law intruded on the constitutionally guaranteed right to home rule, which allows a municipality to govern itself. The city's ban on assault weapons was among those invalidated by the law.

In reversing an earlier appeals court decision, the state's highest court ruled 5-2 Wednesday that the law is constitutional and does not infringe on home rule powers.

Toledo Law Director Adam Loukx said the ruling would make some city laws unenforceable but he does not think it erodes home rule authority.

"There will be scholars and other municipal lawyers who will say it is an erosion of home rule and part of a trend of the legislature," Mr. Loukx said. "I don't know if I would subscribe to that theory based on this ruling alone."

Toledo has several laws that have not been enforced in anticipation of the court's ruling. Among them is a law against weapon possession in a public place.

That could no longer be enforced, Mr. Loukx said.

"It is pretty clear what we can do regarding the possession of firearms has been reduced substantially or wiped out," he said. "The laws concerning carrying firearms have been taken off the cities' plates. We have a few on our books that we have not been enforcing and I suppose that we will probably formally repeal them because they are unenforceable."

Other firearm-related Toledo laws, such as one prohibiting the discharge of a gun in public place, are still enforceable, Mr. Loukx said.

Mr. Cordray had asked the Ohio Supreme Court to decide the case, saying lawmakers determined Ohio should have one comprehensive state law defining gun owner rights instead of a patchwork of measures in different jurisdictions. The law was passed in a dramatic showdown in 2006 between Republican Gov. Bob Taft and the GOP-controlled Legislature, which overrode his veto.

The justices rejected an appeals court finding that the law was not "part of a comprehensive statewide legislative enactment" and found it qualified as a general law, taking precedence over local ordinances.

The office of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the Supreme Court's decision "puts urban populations at greater risk for gun violence and eviscerates the state constitution's home rule provision."

In the dissent, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer concluded, based on a previous court case, that "the General Assembly is incapable of casting a preemption blanket over an entire field" of legislation.

Firearms groups hailed Wednesday's ruling.

"My right to self-defense, just like my right to attend church or write an op-ed in the local newspaper or be protected from illegal search and seizure, is the same in Delaware County as it is in Columbus or Cleveland," Ken Hanson, legislative chair of the Buckeye Firearms Association, told the Columbus Dispatch.

A key issue in discussing home rule is whether local ordinances conflict with general laws, he wrote, noting he doesn't believe Cleveland's ordinances conflict with the law "because they do not permit something that the statute forbids or vice versa."

The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision in 2008, ruled that people may carry guns in public parks. The court 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.



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