Although Upper Arlington officials maintain they must allow firearms to be carried openly in city parks in order to follow state law, a longtime resident asked them Monday to stand their ground and petition state lawmakers for the right to keep guns out of public areas.
Upper Arlington City Council heard the first reading April 14 of legislation that would abolish the city's current ban against firearms in city parks.
According to City Attorney Jeanine Hummer, the city must allow firearms in public parks to comply with Ohio law.
While Hummer, Upper Arlington Police Chief Brian Quinn and some council members have stated they don't support guns in parks, Hummer said the Ohio Supreme Court twice has ruled that municipalities cannot restrict the carrying of legal guns in public parks and open spaces.
On Monday, 42-year Upper Arlington resident and retired attorney Paul Josenhans urged council to rethink its planned amendment.
"This raises the specter of hundreds of persons, unscreened for any criteria, carrying loaded firearms at community celebrations such as the Fourth of July fireworks, Labor Neighbor Day and the like," Josenhans said. "In my view, the greater the number of carriers, the more likely an untoward accident will occur.
"As it appears that our community is at the mercy of state law, I urge the council to prepare and vote on an appropriate resolution instructing delegates to urge the state legislators and the governor to take action to repeal the offensive provisions of the applicable state laws, and that council take serious measures to work with other objecting municipalities to the same end."
Josenhans said that in roughly 40 years of attending community celebrations in public spaces in Upper Arlington, he was unaware of any safety situation that arose which could have been resolved "by the presence of citizens with firearms."
Cities and other government agencies can lawfully ban firearms from their public buildings -- as is the case at the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center.
However, Hummer said at an April 7 council conference session that cities which attempt to prohibit open carrying of firearms in parks could be found in violation of state and federal laws and could be forced to pay court costs and attorney fees to any person, group or entity that successfully challenges the restriction.
"You can carry as long as it's open," Hummer said at the conference session. "Others have tried to litigate. ... Other cities have tried to limit the open carry of firearms, and they have not prevailed."
Prior to opening the issue to public comment Monday, Upper Arlington Mayor and Council President Don Leach said state law and court rulings mandate that the city lift its restrictions.
"Our current ordinance prohibits the carrying of firearms in our parks at all," Leach said. "We face a challenge in our ordinance if we don't change to comply with state law, which we would lose because the courts say you can carry guns."
Because of the possibility of violence, as well as accidental injuries or deaths, Josenhans said if Upper Arlington permits firearms in parks and open spaces, the city and state legislators should require gun carriers to have insurance -- possibly $500,000 per person and $10 million per occurrence -- due to the possibility of accidental injury or death.
Councilman David DeCapua said he supports such a provision, but doesn't know if it would be legal.
"I understand we're handcuffed and a number of us, including myself, abhor the idea (of guns in parks)," DeCapua said. "There has to be something more complicated we can implement."
Hummer said her office would investigate the possibility of an insurance requirement.
In the meantime, council is expected to hear a second reading of the proposed firearms amendment at its April 28 meeting.