City Council Passes Resolution on Guns

Rachel Weinstein

It was a less than eventful Sunday afternoon at the Slow Train Cafe until various students spotted a customer armed with an AK-47 assault rifle in line for a cup of coffee.  Last week, dozens of protesters from across the state came to Oberlin, exercising their right to carry firearms and protesting the long-debated ban on guns in the city’s parks.

“Even though it was just a protest it seems so unreal to come so close to something [that] powerful and fatal; how could you not feel a little scared?” said College junior Devon Wells, who witnessed the armed man in Slow Train.

For weeks, gun-toting citizens from across the state have visited Oberlin to protest the City Council’s ordinance, which bans the possession of unlawful weapons in the city’s parks. Since early August, members of the Oberlin community have witnessed visitors armed with dangerous weapons walking the city’s streets and exercising their rights ensured by Ohio statutes, as well as alarming members of both the College and the greater Oberlin community.

“They are organized and committed to go from town to town to change the law. This is a national, statewide and local push by gun owners.  Suddenly they showed up in our own parks with guns,” explained Sharon Fairchild-Soucy, member of the Oberlin City Council.

Monday evening, the Oberlin City Council and roughly 100 residents adjourned for a city council meeting to discuss the ordinance. City officials and residents from across the state piled into the chambers of City Hall, eagerly awaiting the discussion on guns in city parks. This ordinance was an amendment to section 927.07 of the Codified Ordinances of the City of Oberlin that barred the “unlawful possession, use or discharge” of any type of firearm –– and most weapons –– in city parks.

While the city council committee unanimously supports the ban of firearms in Oberlin City Parks, the council concurrently faces the restriction of state gun laws. The Ohio state legislature permits the possession of guns in state parks, effectively forcing Oberlin to rescind its ordinance to avoid any potential lawsuits.

“As a member of your city council, I feel that my first obligation is to protect the citizens of Oberlin from physical harm; my second obligation is to protect the city from fiscal damage,” said member of the city council Sharon Fairchild-Soucy to citizens during the Town Hall meeting.

After each council member spoke on the issue, members of the community and various other city officials were invited to share their voices on the matter. The majority of the night’s speakers stood in opposition to guns in Oberlin’s parks. The few in favor of guns in parks expressed concerns that the ban is simply unenforceable. Jeff Garvas, president and founder of Ohioans for Concealed Carry spoke on behalf of Ohio residents who felt aggrieved by the city’s ordinance.  Vargas cautioned the Council that if it does not comply with state laws and votes in favor of the prohibition of guns, gun owners and organizations could take the city to court.

Ohioans for Concealed Carry, founded in 1999, is a grassroots organization that seeks to legalize concealed carry of firearms at the state level.  Since 2004, and the enactment of state legislation that permits concealed carry, the organization has been working to expand the rights of gun owners and oppose cities and towns that do not adhere to state law.

In a phone interview, Garvas said that “the first city we had to confront was the city of Clyde just near Toledo.  We argued that local governments were not allowed to pass laws that conflicted with the state law.”  The organization has also entered lawsuits with the city of Cleveland.

“They are organized and committed to go from town to town to change the law. This is a national, statewide and local push by gun owners.  Suddenly they showed up in our own parks with guns,” explained Sharon Fairchild-Soucy, member of the Oberlin City Council.

“The state recognizes our fundamental right of concealed carry and it is the responsibility of smaller communities within the state to comply with that … we have not discussed how we will approach the city of Oberlin yet, but hopefully the city will cooperate and we can handle this civilly” said Garvas.

Monday’s meeting ended with a resolution: a request for the Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation, with the signature of Governor John R. Kasich that amends the Ohio Revised Code, and enable Ohio Municipalities to regulate the possession of firearms in public.

“In Oberlin, we take great pride in our moral indignation, but for me the issue was what you do after the moral indignation and what the city and its leaders hope to do to expand the stake of this legislative situation. The first step was to pass this resolution of protest,” said Fairchild-Soucy.

Since Monday’s meeting, City Council and members of the community have been brainstorming ways to comply with state laws while still keeping guns out of Oberlin’s parks.

“This resolution is only an intermediary step and not what we hope to be a final solution,” said Councilman H Scott Broadwell. Both Broadwell and Fairchild-Soucy have considered selling the land, effectively privatizing it. With the privatization, “landowners” would have the discretion to ban firearms and weapons on park territory.  “While we are looking for a solution, there are simply too many acres of park space to sell to an individual,” said Broadwell.

In the Review’s first issue this fall, Fairchild-Soucy wrote a letter to students welcoming them back for the year and pleading for student involvement in the town’s gun debate. According to Fairchild-Soucy’s letter, it would take 15 percent of voter signatures from the last governor’s election to enable a referendum; such initiative would put the issue directly on the ballot.

“If you could build bridges between other colleges and universities across the state to get them to solicit signatures, we could force a referendum and get people involved,” Fairchild-Soucy said.  “It has been my dream to get the College students more involved and get the ball rolling.”