Shortly after recent shootings in Westerville and in Parkland, Florida, Worthington City Council members publicly asked city officials to report on what they could do to enact local gun-control measures.
Because of state and federal laws, city officials said they see little room for changes, outside a "symbolic" stance Councilman Scott Myers sought at a Feb. 19 meeting with a speech he described as "half-planned and half-unplanned."
Myers cited the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting Feb. 14 and the murder of Westerville Division of Police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli on Feb. 10, saying he "would not accept this as the new normal."
In a motion at the end of his speech, Myers made requests to three department heads and asked his fellow council members to approve the motion, "even if our actions are only symbolic." They did so unanimously.
First, Myers asked police Chief Jerry Strait to determine whether the Worthington Division of Police could join other cities to place stricter requirements on the manufacturers from whom they purchase firearms.
Next, he asked law director Tom Lindsey whether the city could add language to its laws banning weapons in city buildings that the city would "assume intent to harm if one trespasses with a weapon" in such buildings.
Finally, he asked finance director Scott Bartter whether Ohio Public Employee Retirement System holds any stock in gun manufacturers or distributors and whether Worthington and other cities could "persuade PERS to divest."
Myers' first answer came from Strait, who informed him after the meeting that the police division, like most other law-enforcement agencies, purchases weapons through a different method from the general public.
Strait said he is required to sign off on all weapons purchases, which are made through a specific system with a different pricing set from civilians. He said the system offers him little flexibility in the way of Myers' request, but ultimately is a good one.
"The taxpayer saves money, but also these weapons are designed to be used for law enforcement," he said.
As for Lindsey, the law director said he thought Myers was "suggesting some interesting approaches" but the city's ordinances mostly follow state law.
In response to Myers' specific question, Lindsey said, trespassing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Worthington.
He said he believes the city could make that a harsher misdemeanor if it added to the law "the element of causing a person to believe the offender will cause physical harm" due to the presence of a weapon.
However, Lindsey said, the city is not permitted to make a misdemeanor a felony or create a separate felony charge.
He said that would affect most city-initiated gun-control conversations.
"For the most part, our ordinances follow state law in terms of what we are or are not allowed to do," he said. "The state has limited, under the concealed-carry laws, where municipalities may or may not deviate from that."
Bartter said Feb. 27 his department still was trying to provide answers to council.
"I have preliminarily started to address Mr. Myers' questions, but we are still working through answers to all of his questions," Bartter said. "I may try to reach out to the municipal representative to the OPERS board or OPERS directly to see if I can get additional information."
Ultimately, Myers said, he realizes there's not much he or City Council can do about laws decided on state and federal levels.
"If I leave one legacy from my time up here, I hope it is that I tried," he said.
He said he knows some laws – like those that allow the open carrying of weapons outdoors and in areas like parks – can't be touched by cities, but that doesn't stop him from worrying about what they allow.
Myers said he once encountered marchers in a gun-rights rally in downtown Columbus and wondered what prevented people from walking around with weapons in a Worthington park.
"I was on my way to my car in a parking garage and I walked by three guys, one with an AR-15, one with a rifle and a sidearm and another with just a sidearm," he said. "I got kind of freaked out. I walked up to a highway patrolman and said, 'You're kind of outgunned, aren't you?' "
Myers' sentiment of a "symbolic" action was one Councilman David Robinson said he appreciated.
"We wouldn't want to present what we're doing as adequate to solving the problem," Robinson said. "But rather we're affirming that the status quo is unacceptable."
Strait, who said gun-control questions are "difficult to answer," also said some portions of laws might need to change.
"I think there's always areas that could be tightened up that need to be tightened up within the way sales take place," he said. "I agree with some of the context that there needs to be some definitive discussions on how to address the issues out there with regard to mental health and access for those individuals who might have been diagnosed with mental-health issues."
Although Myers said he understands Worthington might not be as susceptible to shootings as other cities, he believes taking a stance is worthwhile.
"Let's face it: Worthington is one of the safest communities you could possibly live in; my hat is off to Chief Strait and the people who live here," he said. "I look at this more as a global issue than specifically a local issue. But I also know there are a lot of opinionated people who are bright and speak their minds."