BG gun ordinance triggers tempers PDF Print E-mail
Written by PETER KUEBECK, Sentinel City Editor   
Monday, 02 June 2014 21:36
Councilman Michael Aspacher (left) speaks near fellow councilman Bruce Jeffers during a discussion on an ordinance concerning guns in city parks. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
A proposed ordinance that would allow guns in the city parks triggered a vocal response in council chambers Monday night.
"What I'm looking for from our citizens tonight is a straw to grasp at because, to be blunt, I don't see where we have much room to do much locally," said Councilman Bruce Jeffers, of the city's options in the matter.
"What I'm looking for is something we can do something with. I'm hoping I hear it."
The ordinance would bring the city in compliance with the Ohio Revised Code and rulings made by the Ohio Supreme Court. Currently, the city's standing ordinance does not allow firearms in Bowling Green's parks, putting it in conflict the state law and court decisions.
The ordinance resulted from a series of emails exchanged with a gun-rights activist, who reportedly discussed the ORC and supreme court cases. Councilman Bob McOmber noted that the emails with the man were "tending to get more strident with each one." 
Mayor Richard Edwards and Municipal Administrator John Fawcett told the BG Park Board last week that the situation puts the city into a difficult place, noting that failure to change the ordinance could make the city subject to a lawsuit - one they would be unlikely to win. In 2008, the Ohio Supreme court decided 4-3 against the city of Clyde in a similar matter when they were sued by Ohioans for Open Carry over a guns-in-parks issue. The court battle cost Clyde $70,000.
Councilwoman Theresa Charters Gavarone later pointed out that, though the initial Ohio Supreme Court decision against Clyde was 4-3, the decision was affirmed in a subsequent 2010 case by a 5-2 vote.
Resident Lisa Kochheiser called the issue "extremely disturbing", saying "it is literally being forced upon the city by state preemption."
Bowling Green resident Sam Melendez voices his concern about the presence of firearms in parks.
"It's been litigated at the highest level you can litigate it at," said Councilman Bob McOmber, commenting on the legality of the issue. Though noting he thinks the city ought to have the ability to have an ordinance denying guns in parks, he said "I think we've got to grasp reality."
"We don't seem to have much of a ray of hope" in the case, said Councilman John Zanfardino. However, "I'm not comfortable with three quick readings and a resolution. I don't think that gives the community time to digest this and see what the total population might want."
Resident Dick Rogers characterized the process of getting a concealed-carry permit as rigorous, stating "I'm only saying that to carry a gun in the park, you're not going to see a lot of people doing it, and if they do it, they're good guys."
"I'm concerned that some guys' not going to like what the little league ump says at my kid's tee-ball game," said resident Sam Melendez.
"Do your job and represent what the people want, not what some out-of-town activists want," he told council.
Following questions regarding who composed the proposed ordinance, and learning that it was City Prosecutor Matt Reger, Melendez said "who I'll point out is the chairman of the Republican Party" in Wood County, implying a connection between the proposed ordinance and the Republican-majority state legislature.
"I can't let that go," said City Attorney Mike Marsh.
Bowling Green resident Dick Rogers voices his support for guns in parks.
Marsh indicated that the first email exchanges with the activist on the subject began over a year ago and "he received numerous emails back from me that said 'go to hell' and other things that I can't repeat. That's how I responded. Reger works for me. He wrote the ordinance because he does the parks work. And all the ordinance is, is the existing law with a deletion. It didn't take a lot of crafting. I'm not sure if being sued because we have a law on the books is worth worrying about. Honestly, without giving away any secrets, my advice was to do nothing, because someday the court may change. But today it doesn't matter that it's on the books."
"The state of the law is the state code today, no matter what these folks say," he added.
Councilman Daniel Gordon asked why it was decided to write an ordinance. Fawcett responded.
"The continuing correspondence that we have received indicated that it was not going away," he said, and an ordinance that conflicted with the state code - or the possibility of a police officer accidentally issuing a citation based on the conflicting ordinance if it stood on the books but wasn't to be enforced - could expose the city to legal action. Fawcett said that, as the city's Director of Safety, he thus wanted the ordinance to be in compliance. He discussed the issue with Reger, as Marsh wasn't available at the time, and Reger said that "in his legal opinion it should be revised to the language that you have before you."
"Perhaps we need to consider slowing down the process in order to accumulate more information," said Council President Michael Aspacher near the meeting's end, noting the comments from multiple council members.
"This is something we'll be discussing in the coming days."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 09:22

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