Editorial: Middle ground for gun laws?

Jan Larson

I’m not anti-gun.
I’m anti-gun fanatics, people who think that any regulation is the first step to a complete ban on
I realize that even good things need limits. I understand my Constitutional right to free speech does not
mean that I can legally say or print anything. I’m OK with that.
So I thought I would search for such a middle ground in Bowling Green, which has recently found it has a
target on its back since it fails to comply with state law allowing guns in public parks.
I was searching for reason in the sea of strong emotions on both sides of the issue. So Monday I started
making phone calls to public officials, asking for possible solutions to BG’s dilemma. I had heard
enough from the extremists on both sides of the issue – I wanted to hear from that quieter gray area
able to see a common ground.
But barely eight hours after starting phone calls to public officials about the gun ordinance, word (and
my cell phone number) had somehow gotten to the Buckeye Firearms Association. The organization’s
president, Jim Irvine, was under the impression that Bowling Green was considering a ban on firearms in
city parks. And he was anything but gray on the issue.
He was several minutes into telling me how criminals seek out gun-free zones like city parks to commit
crimes before I could reassure him that Bowling Green wasn’t considering a ban. The city was looking at
allowing guns in parks – basically because groups like his would likely sue the city to get the current
ban tossed.
Irvine said the Buckeye Firearms Association had sued and won the issue against Cleveland. But if Bowling
Green changes its ordinance, similar action won’t be required here, he said. "If the city gets into
compliance on their own, there’s nothing to do," Irvine said.
If council doesn’t revise its ordinance, the city will be throwing away taxpayer money. If council does
revise its ordinance, the city will be going against the wishes of the majority of those people who have
spoken out on the issue – all because of the possibility of a lawsuit if the changes aren’t made.
"This is a hard one. Unfortunately, there seems to be no local solution," said City Solicitor
Mike Marsh.
The city buckles, or faces a lengthy legal battle which will end up costing the city big bucks.
"That’s folly for us," Marsh said.
"You’d like to think local people know how to run their community," Marsh said. But Ohio’s
"home rule" only applies if the state doesn’t have regulations in place. If it were put to a
public vote in BG, the ban would probably stand, only to be thrown out by the courts, he said.
The solicitor understands the need for consistent gun laws throughout the state. "I get why it needs
to be uniform."
But Bowling Green isn’t alone in its desire to keep public parks gun-free. Also in Ohio, Westerville,
Oberlin, Upper Arlington and Clyde have resisted allowing firearms in their parks.
They have all since relinquished. But, in protest, Upper Arlington went one step further and their city
council adopted a resolution urging citizens to contact their state legislators to ask them to change
the state law so municipalities can ban guns in public parks.
Marsh said he has drafted similar legislation for BG that council hasn’t yet discussed.
"The answer to this is at the ballot box" – at the state level, Marsh explained.
However, any gun restrictions in Ohio face an uphill battle, since the existing firearms regulations won
nearly 10 years ago by a huge margin, with solid support from both political parties.
And groups like the Buckeye Firearms Association show no willingness to give an inch. Irvine already
objects to not being able to carry his weapon in such places as buildings on fairgrounds.
"That’s ludicrous," he said. "Why do I lose the right to protect myself?"
Both sides have pointed out that Bowling Green parks have not experienced any shootings with the
unenforceable ban in place. And I have trouble believing that criminals seek out
locations marked as gun-free zones, despite Irvine telling me, "That’s how a mass killer looks at
those signs."
State law does allow guns to be restricted in "confined spaces." Marsh interprets that as
places such as the pool in City Park and the baseball complex in Carter Park. Irvine sees that as a
welcome mat for criminals. Marsh sees it differently.
"I can’t imagine why you would need to go into the park with a shoulder arm," Marsh said.
Our state legislators have heard very little about the issue from local constituents, other than Bowling
Green officials seeking perspective and advice.
Sen. Randy Gardner and Rep. Tim Brown, both Republicans from Bowling Green, stressed the bipartisan
support for the existing state gun regulations. And both emphasized the need for statewide uniformity.

Brown said he does not believe the state legislature feels any need to modify the regulations to restrict
guns in parks. Most of the comments he gets are from gun rights advocates, who say "don’t deprive
me of the right to defend myself and my family," Brown said.
When asked how many times he has used his gun to defend himself or others, Irvine said the firearm acts
as a defense anytime it’s with him. But as far as drawing his gun and pointing it at a potential
criminal – none.
As someone who reads Associated Press stories from across the nation every day, I must say that I can’t
remember the last story about a person successfully using a gun to legally protect themselves outside
their home. I have, however, noticed an increase in stories about accidental shootings involving
When asked about the abnormally high rate of gun deaths in Ohio last year among children, Irvine agreed
the number was high, but called it an "anomaly."
I guess that’s what I’m looking for – our own anomaly of reason in the gun rights debate. Something based
on reasoned ideas, not based on the screaming extremists on both ends of the issue.

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