The Ohio Council of Churches commends Columbus City Council and Mayor for trying
Man with family

On a warm night in October, a small parade of all colors and ages worked their way down a Sullivant Avenue sidewalk on the west side of Columbus in the setting sunlight. At the lead was a young girl, holding up a cardboard placard with the smiling picture of James Johnson III. In 2020, the 29-year-old was ambushed by gunfire as he walked out of a nearby gas station. His murder remains unsolved and his mother is unwavering for answers.

Who will never be seen in such a sad procession is Ohio Attorney General David Yost or the rural county judge he found to put a December 5 temporary restraining order on three new gun laws passed by Columbus City Council. This judge, Fairfield County Common Pleas Judge Richard Berens, represents just a fragment of southeast Columbus, which includes a small stretch of Refugee Road and Blacklick Woods Metro Park.

“The city has knowingly and deliberately overstepped its legislative authority,” stated Yost following Judge Berens’ temporary restraining order.

This is just another example of Ohio’s entrenched GOP and their determination to retain and expand their pro-gun initiatives. Such as the absurdity of putting a gun in everyone’s possession at all times, but which not surprisingly has backfired in so many uncountable and terrible ways.

James Johnson III’s murder was one of 175 for 2020, which was a record for Columbus. The total for 2021 was 204, another record. Gun nuts will protest they didn’t all die from guns, and that’s partially true as 91 percent of the 204 were shot. But here’s another terrible reality as of December 23rd, 2022 – the Gun Violence Archive reports 41 Columbus teenagers (12 to 17) have either been wounded or killed by gunfire. Cincinnati was at 21 and Cleveland at 24. And you can add another teenager to the Columbus totals as 16-year-old Deaire Craighead was shot multiple times on Christmas day and died.

There is no question, says the likes of Sean Stevenson, who leads the local End the Violence, that too much “beef” in urban neighborhoods is now settled with semi-automatics. Army guns, however, pushed heartily by Ohio Republicans and the GOP in general. They’ve given gunmakers a greenlight to flood communities, which induces illegal sales or “straw sales” to teenagers or those with felonies. What’s left is a river of mothers’ tears, more scared neighborhoods, and the police’s job a bigger nightmare.

In the aftermath of the homicide records of 2020 and 2021, Mayor Ginther declared gun violence a “public health crisis” in February and formed the Columbus Alliance Against Illegal Guns. Many were intrigued but weren’t expecting miracles. The GOP-besieged Statehouse had passed a pre-emption law back in 2019 to squash desperate cities from passing their own gun-restriction laws.

Yet resolve turned into legislation and City Council passed the three “common sense” gun ordinances: Banning large capacity magazine that can hold 30 or more rounds, making possession a misdemeanor. Increasing the penalties if minor had gained easy access to a gun. And the one that could be exceedingly difficult to enforce, prohibiting “straw sales” to those who can’t legally own guns, making it a first-degree misdemeanor to those who knowingly made the sale. City Council also let the community know that “research continues on a renewal of the City’s Assault Weapons Ban.”

Attorney General Yost then went judge shopping and found Judge Berens to specifically order Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein to refrain from prosecuting the new laws. His temporary restraining order expires at the end of this month.

In the spring of 2022, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence retired its mission and handed it to the Columbus-based Ohio Council of Churches, which is led by Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr., who is also a registered lobbyist. 

“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. “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.”

Rev. Sullivan believes Yost’s action sends another “shockwave of indifference” through the state.

“Especially to people who have experienced catastrophic losses and injuries due to gun violence,” he said. “And also to people who want to feel safe when they go grocery shopping, when they go to a house of worship, or a night of entertainment. We deserve to feel safe.”

When the Ohio GOP passed an expansive gun rights bill (House Bill 228) in 2019, it made it easier for those claiming self-defense to avoid prosecution. It also exposed Columbus to becoming more of a shooting range, because it added the pre-emption law which squashes desperate cities or municipalities from passing anything which may curb the violence.

City Attorney Klein has challenged Ohio’s “pre-emption” before, and did so recently, stating, it’s an “unconstitutional infringement upon municipal home-rule.”

This complex legal tug-of-war is ongoing, but as long as the gun-lusting Second Amendment avocates at the Statehouse remain in power, it’s an uphill battle for Columbus lawmakers to put even the mildest of gun restrictions on its own streets. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2023 will also remain controlled by a majority of Republicans.

Toby Hoover founded and led the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence for over two decades. She recently retired, and said, “Columbus is making a noble attempt to stop some of the violence.”

“The pre-emption in Ohio is going to be a challenge but it looks like they are up to it,” she says. “The ordinances they are proposing are all lifesaving, but our Ohio legislators are more interested in guns. Pre-emption is one of the worst things to pass in Ohio and all over the country. It took the rights of communities away. Seems contrary to governing ‘by the people’.”