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Columbus leaders put forward new gun control measures

In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, an assortment of firearms are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield, Ill.
Elaine Thompson
/
Associated Press

Columbus leaders proposed new legislation to reduce gun violence in the city on Wednesday.

"Today we're fighting back. The time for talk is over. The time for study is over. It is time to act," said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.

The legislation would restrict magazines able to hold 30 or more rounds of ammunition for use only by law enforcement, military personnel and federal and state agents.

Also proposed are new penalties for improper safe storage of firearms, and a ban on so-called "straw man sales" of guns to those who may not legally possess them.

Ginther said the measures are designed to save lives.

"Not to strip people of their guns, but to put reasonable limits on the type of gun you may own, how you can purchase that weapon, how much ammunition you can use and how to keep others safe from guns in storage," he said.

Ginther said they are also considering red flag laws, and exploring options for restricting certain rifles, such as AR-15s.

"Assault-style weapons are weapons of war. They are not for personal safety or sport. You don't need an AR-15 to protect yourself, your home and your family," he said.

The announcement comes a week after a Franklin County Common Pleas judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking part of a 2018 state law that expanded self-defense protections and other gun rights.

City attorney Zach Klein said Columbus has taken many steps toward gun violence prevention, but when it comes to impactful legislation to address the problem, their hands have been tied, he said.

"We as city leaders have the responsibility to respond," Klein said. "But oftentimes, it's like flying a kite in a hurricane, because we're going against the deluge of guns that are being dumped on our streets because of Republican policies at the Statehouse."

Officials said Columbus homicides are down by more than 30% over last year. Police said roughly 90% of the city's homicides in 2021 were committed with a firearm. So far this year, police have taken nearly 3,000 illegal guns off the streets.

At Wednesday's news conference, trauma surgeon Dr. Keshav Deshpande recalled a young man who was brought to Grant Medical Center with a gunshot wound to his chest.

"Just before we performed an emergency procedure to evacuate the blood that was in his chest," Deshpande said. "He turned around and he looked right at me clear-minded just as any of us here in this room, and he said, 'Please, don't let me die. I have to get home to my son.'"

When they opened his chest, the doctor said, they discovered the bullet had destroyed the man's lungs and pierced his heart. Doctors tried to repair the damage, but there was nothing they could do.

Gun rights advocates said the city is overstepping its legal authority to regulate firearms in Ohio.

Dean Rieck is the executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association. He said the city is taking a broad interpretation of the judge's ruling, which he said only applies to zoning for firearms manufacturers.

Rieck said the city's plan would create a patchwork of laws that are unfair to lawful gun owners.

"It's like traffic laws. You can't have red meaning stop in one community and a red mean go in another community. That's not a good use of home rule. It just spreads confusion and entraps people. And that's exactly what laws like this would do," Rieck said.

And if most crime is committed with handguns, Rieck argued, then why are city leaders so concerned about AR-15s?

"It doesn't make any sense. This sounds to me like politics, that they just want to make a political statement. It also sounds like they want to hurry up and pass a bunch of laws, while they think they have an excuse to do so," he said.

The state of Ohio has already appealed the injunction, Klein said. But city leaders see an opportunity and they intend to fight, potentially all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.