The current fight over firearm preemption laws isn’t getting nearly as much attention as attempts at “assault weapons” bans or the “carry killer” legislation that’s been introduced in places like New Jersey and California, but it’s just as important as those higher-profile issues. In fact, if anti-gunners get their way, Second Amendment supporters will soon be faced with an avalanche of constitutionally questionable local gun control laws that would not only create a patchwork-quilt of ordinances that could easily ensnare responsible gun owners, but would cost a fortune to challenge in court.
Colorado Democrats repealed the state’s preemption law in 2021, and we’ve already seen a number of localities impose bans on everything from “assault weapons” to open carry. There are similar efforts underway this year in states like Washington State, but even in red states where a legislative repeal is impossible the gun control lobby and their elected allies are trying to undo the laws through litigation. The Florida Supreme Court recently upheld the state’s preemption law after it was challenged by a group of anti-gun politicians, but now the court battles have shifted to Ohio, where the mayors of Columbus and Cincinnati are taking on the Buckeye State’s preemption law, claiming its an unconstitutional violation of the state’s Home Rule statutes.
The 43-page lawsuit filed Friday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court challenges a 2006 law passed by the Ohio legislature and its 2018 expansion.
It forbids Ohio municipalities from imposing any restriction on a person’s ability to own, possess, purchase, sell, transfer, transport, store or keep any firearm, part of a firearm, its components and its ammunition.
In the past, this has prevented cities from passing their own limits on the size of magazines or their own bans on assault weapons.
The lawsuit argues the law is “an unconstitutional and unlawful effort by the General Assembly to silence local elected officials and the municipalities they represent.”
The suit states the “home rule” power of Ohio cities, a provision of the Ohio Constitution allowing cities to pass laws, should protect cities from the law.
The Ohio Supreme Court has already weighed in once on the firearms preemption law and found that it didn’t violate the Home Rule provisions in the state constitution. But Cincinnati’s attorneys think they’ve found a way around that previous decision.
Cincinnati’s lawyers said one of the reasons the preemption law was upheld by the court was that the state had laws in place regulating concealed carry. The lawsuit states now that guns can be carried without a permit, that argument is obsolete.
“With one hand the State dismantles existing gun laws; with the other, it threatens exorbitant liability for Ohio cities attempting to fill the void,” the suit states. “The State’s abandonment of common-sense gun regulation has bloody consequences.”
The complaint spends an awful lot of time and energy on the state’s permitless carry law, which stands to reason. After all, Cincinnati’s real goal isn’t to pass a storage mandate or even implement a “sensitive place” or two; they want to turn their towns into the midwest version of San Francisco or New York City, where the right to keep and bear arms is a near impossibility.
The city’s appeal is emotionally-based for a reason; as a legal argument it kinda blows. The state of Ohio, according to the state Supreme Court, has the power to set up a uniform regulatory framework of gun laws. Obviously those laws might not be as restrictive as Democrats would like, at least as long as Republicans are in charge, but if Democrats ever gain control of the levers of state government then they could impose whatever statewide restrictions they like… at least until they’re thrown out in court for violating the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.
Cincinnati even acknowledges that “[t]he regulatory framework cited by the Ohio Supreme Court in City of Cleveland technically still exists”, but claim that permitless carry and other pro-Second Amendment measures approved by the legislature has rendered the framework “obsolete in practice”; an absolutely ridiculous claim given the amount of gun laws currently on the books in the state, which govern everything from the manner in which firearms can be carried to sales of arms and ammunition. The fact that Cincinnati and Columbus officials want more laws in place doesn’t change the fact that the state legislature has the power to set these uniform policies according to the state Supreme Court.
We may soon get an idea of where the current court stands. Two county judges have so far refused to halt enforcement of a couple of gun control ordinances passed by the Columbus City Council a short time ago, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is appealing those rulings. While the cases aren’t ripe for Supreme Court review quite yet, the court will get a crack at the request for a preliminary injunction in the not-too-distant future. Gun control activists are crossing their collective fingers, but the executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association sounds confident that the preemption law will be upheld.
“Cincinnati is following the lead of Columbus in ignoring settled law and previous court decisions,” said Dean Rieck, Executive Director of Buckeye Firearms Association.
“And just as Columbus’ challenge will eventually be defeated, Cincinnati, too, will lose in court. Either lower courts will decide the matter or, once again, the Ohio Supreme Court will weigh in and remind Ohio’s cities that they have no home rule authority on the matter of Second Amendment rights.”
As Rieck points out, Cincinnati already lost a previous challenge in 2021, when the state Supreme Court declined to overturn a lower court decision throwing out the city’s 2018 ban on bump stocks. In fact, the city ended up paying BFA more than $200,000 in legal fees as a result of their ill-fated attempt to take on the preemption law.
Hopefully the efforts of Ohio’s gun prohibitionists will once again be thwarted by the judiciary, but the threat to firearms preemption laws goes far beyond Ohio’s borders, and will continue to be a major part of the gun-banners playbook going forward; undoing the laws via legislation wherever possible, and challenging them in court in states where a pro-2A majority makes that an impossibility.