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Whose Rights Win? Gun Violence, Preemption, and Home Rule in Ohio

In Ohio, cities that have attempted to enact their own gun control regulations have run up against a brick wall where municipal “home rule” – and their governing authority – ends abruptly. Ohio’s legislature and courts have blocked cities’ local efforts at gun control, citing the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. Should Ohio cities have the right to take up gun control measures to reduce shootings and address other issues when the State and others see such measures as conflicting with the U.S. Constitution’s right to bear arms?

Municipal home rule has been around in Ohio a long time – since 1912 – when 58% of the state’s voters approved giving cities greater self-control by adding a “home rule” article to the state’s Constitution. It stated:

‘Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.” The Ohio State Constitution, Article XVIII, Section 3 (1912)

But new revisions championed by the State legislature in 2019 and 2022 to Ohio’s Revised Code began to chip away at home rule. The revisions restricted Ohio cities from enacting their own gun control laws – essentially a ban on bans. The revisions have shackled Ohio cities from acting to tackle endemic gun violence. The justification? The U.S. Constitution – plus Ohio’s own – spells out gun rights that cities can’t pre-empt.

The public clearly wants action to curb gun violence: polling data by The Columbus Dispatch shows Ohioans on both sides of the political spectrum overwhelmingly want at least limited statewide gun control measures.

What happens next? If gun control advocates can’t overcome Ohio’s “home rule” barrier and reduce gun violence through local ordinances, will they try for a new statewide constitutional amendment? Did the defeat of a plan to make it harder to amend Ohio’s constitution open the door more widely for new citizen-led statewide gun control efforts? With an expert panel, we ask: in Ohio’s battle over municipal home rule, who gets to decide?

Featuring Zach Klein, Columbus City Attorney, David Tryon, Director of Litigation, The Buckeye Institute, and Thell Robinson III, Founder and CEO, Halt Violence, and Amelia Robinson, Opinion and Community Engagement Editor, The Columbus Dispatch, with Clare Roth, Managing Editor, The Ohio Newsroom.