OCC Holds Town at Legal Gunpoint

Rachel Weinstein, Staff Writer

Tension surrounding the town’s policy on guns and other weapons prevails as the Ohio non-profit Ohioans for Concealed Carry, brings the city of Oberlin to court. At a city council meeting in September, OFCC threatened to sue the town if they did not abide by the Ohio state gun laws. Despite the City Council’s efforts to comply, OFCC proceeded with legal measures.

“It’s hard to believe [that] they did not appear at September’s City Council meeting without the intent to sue,” says City Councilman Bryan Burgess. “Just days later, they had an entire case prepared against us. It seems they had this in mind before the meeting.”

OFCC is a grassroots organization whose initial goal was to obtain the right to “concealed carry,” or the ability to hide weaponry on your person in public places. Since legislation has already passed enforcing such a right, the organization now works to preserve the rights of gun owners in Ohio. OFCC works with state legislators to preserve and expand gun laws in the state and to counter unfounded claims.

In a September interview with OFCC founder Jeff Vargas, Vargas claimed that the organization was simply looking for cooperation from the town. “Obviously we are not looking to pursue a lawsuit and take the city to court. We are looking to be assured of our rights that are promised by the state and hope that the city can comply with them,” Vargas said.

OFCC officially filed the lawsuit on Oct. 1 and demanded that the town remove five ordinances — 549.02, 549.07, 549.10, 549.12 and 927.07. Council voted to strike four of the five ordinances, but with a close vote of 4-3 preserved ordinance 927.07, which prohibits illegal possession of firearms and other weapons in city parks.

“We are still complying with Ohio state law,” affirms Burgess. “We have amended the ordinance so that it reads verbatim to the state’s law.”

Whereas ordinance 927.07 prohibited the possession of weapons and firearms in city parks before September’s City Council meeting, the amendment only restricts the illegal possession of weaponry.

Burgess affirmed that illegal possession involves the ownership of such weaponry by convicted felons and other individuals restricted from possessing firearms and other lethal artillery. The statue now allows for the possession of firearms and weapons in parks so long as it is not deemed “illegal”.

According to Vice President of Council Sharon Fairchild-Soucy, city officials are unsure of when they will be summoned to appear in court. “As far as I know, this could take weeks, or even months,” said Fairchild-Soucy.

“Since we are complying entirely with state law, advisors and the town’s lawyers have informed us that it is likely we will win this case,” affirmed Fairchild-Soucy. “It is also likely that if OCC does not win this lawsuit, the organization will appeal the case and we will have to handle this issue at higher courts, next being the Court of Appeals, and possibly even the State Supreme Court.”

The city of Oberlin’s fight to restrict gun use in the town has extended beyond OFCC’s lawsuit against them. Weeks ago, Fairchild-Soucy, Burgess and other individuals and organizations from Oberlin traveled to Columbus to testify against House Bill 203, legislation similar to Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law.

HB 203 was recently passed by the Ohio House of Representatives and will likely be introduced to the state’s Senate in the coming months. In addition to repealing four of the five ordinances, City Council passed a resolution that publicly decried the legislation.

In addition to the problems that the implementation of HB 203 could present, the bill could cost the city precious municipal funds. According to Burgess, the bill will cost the city $100 for every day they are out of compliance with state gun laws.

“We have been fighting endlessly for home rule,” says Fairchild-Soucy. “This is our town and we want the right to be able to regulate guns and weapons in our parks as we wish as a community.”