Rep Jarrells and AG Yost

When Ohio Attorney General David Yost went judge shopping to permanently ban Columbus City Council’s effort to enact even the mildest of gun safety laws, the Free Press was certain the Fairfield County judge he found would side with the State of Ohio.

Many were confused or not paying attention: How could a Fairfield County judge have authority over Columbus? Unfortunately, and almost unimaginably, is how a tiny sliver of southeast Columbus extends into neighboring (and mostly conservative) Fairfield County.

But the Free Press was thankfully wrong. Fairfield County Common Pleas Judge Richard Berens on January 20 denied the State of Ohio’s motion for a preliminary injunction to forever ban Columbus’s gun safety measures passed in December.

The City’s three new gun laws are now in effect: Banning ammunition magazines of 30 rounds or more, which are almost always attached to semi-automatic rifles. Criminalizing “straw sales” – the most utilized way felons obtain guns. And makes it a third-degree misdemeanor if minors can easily get a gun; for example, if guns are not locked up in a home where children live.

Laughable is the argument Attorney General Yost and state attorneys used to persuade Judge Berens to reject the safe storage law. But this is no laughing matter when you consider Columbus broke its homicide record in 2020 with 175, and again in 2021 with 204.

“Yost attempted to argue in part that the City’s safe storage ordinance is unconstitutional on the basis that the state allowed child soldiers during the Civil War. The judge summarily refused to admit the exhibit into evidence,” stated a press release from Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s office press.

Yost’s office, of course, plans to appeal Judge Berens’ ruling.

Keeping a close eye on this localized constitutional standoff is the Columbus-based Ohio Council of Churches, which took over for the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence in 2022, and led by Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr.

“I think it was a courageous and responsible step that the Columbus City Council and the Mayor did take to pass that legislation,” said Rev. Sullivan Jr. of Canal Winchester. “It is unfortunate and upsetting that the laws they passed are being challenged by none other than the State of Ohio, which also should be applauding Columbus and providing solutions to gun violence.”

The legal wranglings between the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio over gun rights is a complicated tug-of-war many have trouble fully understanding. The essence of the fight is whether the City of Columbus has the right to supersede Ohio’s preemption law which forbids cities or districts to make their own gun laws.

The General Assembly passed statewide gun law preemption in 2007 trying to bring uniformity across the state like motor vehicle laws. Ohio Revised Code section 9.68 prohibits cities and other political subdivisions from regulating firearms. But critics back then and now believe Statehouse Republicans are simply sold-out to the gun lobby and been so for decades.

There are those at the Statehouse, all Dems obviously, seeking to restore local authority regarding gun laws.

Ohio Rep. Dontavius L. Jarrells (D-Columbus) in 2022 sponsored HB 274, which sought to repeal RC 9.68. During testimony back in November, Rep. Jarrells, in his words, went “off-testimony”.

“I’m going to speak about this issue from my district’s perspective,” said Rep. Jarrells. “Franklin County [has] some of the highest rates of death due to gun violence.

He continued, “One of the things we talk about in this bill is simply giving municipalities local control. And giving those municipalities the opportunity to create innovative ways and policies to stop the death we are having in our urban centers.”

“This bill will save lives,” said Rep. Jarrells. “Our job is to protect Ohioans. This is not a way to strip people of their freedoms and rights, but a means of protecting all Ohioans. A governing body must be able to regulate instruments that have the capacity to kill. Especially in the plight of mass shootings.”

But even after all this was said, Rep. Jarrells recently told the Free Press, “Sadly it only received one hearing this General Assembly. We’re going to likely reintroduce it.”