Cities Cannot Regulate the Bill of Rights

The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens of the United States the right to own and bear firearms. Because local governments were getting confused by this simple reality, in 2006 the Ohio General Assembly passed an ordinance holding that only federal or state regulations can limit Second Amendment rights in the Buckeye State.

HB347, the preemption law, became effective in March of 2007. It replaced a patchwork of varied and confusing local rules with "uniform laws throughout the state regulating the ownership, possession, purchase, other acquisition, transport, storage, carrying, sale, or other transfer of firearms, their components, and their ammunition."

Nevertheless, the city of Cleveland objected to this simple reality and filed suit, claiming the state ordinance essentially eliminated its own gun laws. Cleveland found a sympathetic panel of judges in the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals, which overturned the state law, stating it violated the city's home-rule rights and the single-subject provision of the constitution.

Fortunately, sanity -- and the Bill of Rights -- prevailed on Dec. 29 when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on behalf of the state.

The bottom line, judges ruled, is that like motor vehicle laws, it makes sense for firearms laws to be uniform throughout a state. Also, they ruled, because local laws usually carry misdemeanor penalties, and almost every crime committed with a gun is a felony, local ordinances were rarely used to charge criminals but, instead, "served to disarm the crime victims."

Several of Ohio's largest newspapers reacted with editorials critical of the ruling, stating that it is more important for local governments to have the "home rule" ability to regulate the Bill of Rights than it is for individual citizens to be protected from local government by a Bill of Rights.

In a bizarre twist of doublespeak, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Editorial Board wrote on Jan. 2: "A pattern has emerged that doesn't just violate the state constitution, but the rights of all citizens. Local self-governance must be returned to the people, where it belongs."

In other words, giving local governments the authority to regulate and dilute individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution is, somehow, a form of "self-governance."

And on Jan. 1, an editorial in The Toledo Blade also cited a "troubling" trend: "Last week's ruling is the latest example of how lawmakers and courts have become increasingly weapons-friendly in recent years. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 -- and expanded that decision last June -- that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an individual right."

The fact that this simple reality comes as a revelation to some is what is truly "troubling" about this entire episode.

Photo: John Baden