Tiny Clyde carrying the ball before justices
Wednesday, October 3, 2007 3:49 AM
By James Nash
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Clyde, Ohio, is a small town, but its legal quest to keep guns out of city parks could have a big effect on firearms laws across the state.

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Sandusky County town's appeal of a court ruling that struck down its anti-gun ordinance as being in conflict with state law.

The outcome of the case, while months away, apparently will determine whether Ohio cities can enact restrictions on firearms beyond the statewide standard.

Firearms groups thought that question was settled. Last December, state lawmakers overrode a veto from then-Gov. Bob Taft and decreed that no cities or counties may adopt gun restrictions that are tougher than state and federal law.

The action was thought to have wiped out 80 local gun ordinances, including Columbus' assault-weapons ban and Dublin's waiting period for gun purchases.

Months later, an appeals court tossed out Clyde's law. The city appealed, and the state's highest court last week agreed to take up the case. A verdict is months away; the Supreme Court typically takes weeks or more to schedule a case for a hearing, after which the average decision takes 139 days, according to court records.

"This isn't necessarily a case of whether or not you can carry a gun at a park," said Clyde's attorney, Barry W. Bova. "It deals more with maintaining a municipality's home-rule powers under the (Ohio) Constitution."

Some city officials say the legislature robbed them of their power to respond to such local issues as gun violence. Cleveland is challenging the law in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court as an infringement on its home-rule authority.

Advocates for gun rights say a patchwork of local laws would only lead to confusion and possibly entrapment of people who obtained permits to carry concealed weapons.

"It would be completely unenforceable," said L. Kenneth Hanson, attorney for Ohioans for Concealed Carry, which challenged the Clyde law. "There would be no way to know on a trip around (I-270) what's legal and what's not legal as you cross from one community to another."

Clyde leaders maintain that their ordinance -- passed shortly after the state concealed-carry law took effect in 2004 but never enforced -- doesn't run afoul of state law. At issue is whether the concealed-carry law is a "general law," which would take precedence over any local regulations, or a weaker law that allows for local deviation. Bova said it's the latter.

Cleveland, Columbus and the Ohio Municipal League support his position.

"The General Assembly doesn't have the ability to say, 'We don't like what you're doing, so we're going to prohibit it,' " said John E. Gotherman, the municipal league's attorney.

Attorney General Marc Dann, who as a state senator voted to override Taft's veto of the statewide gun law, is siding with Ohioans for Concealed Carry.

Cleveland Law Director Robert Triozzi said the city will defend its local laws on assault weapons, possession of weapons in public places and possession of weapons by minors.

Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said a favorable Supreme Court ruling in the Clyde case would stamp out Cleveland's challenge.

"It should establish that statewide preemption is legal," Irvine said.

Unlike Cleveland, Columbus is not waging a legal challenge to the statewide law. That doesn't mean Mayor Michael B. Coleman is happy with it, however. Mike Brown, spokesman for Coleman, said the mayor supports Clyde's position.

"You can't take a gun to the Statehouse, but you can to Whetstone Park in Clintonville," Brown said. "That doesn't make sense to us."

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