By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
In a surprising show of consensus, council unanimously approved a gun-control ordinance last night, but only after 10 amendments to weaken the bill.
The ordinance, with certain exceptions, makes it a crime for anyone to leave a loaded firearm anywhere that someone under age 18 is likely to gain possession of it.
“It’s certainly a victory,” said Toby Hoover, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, which has been pushing the ordinance. “We’re very happy with the fact that all of our council members came together to protect our children.”
The law also applies to unloaded firearms accompanied by ammunition. It requires “negligence” on the part of the gun owner, which is a lower legal standard than “knowingly” leaving a gun in an accessible place.
The legislation is designed to encourage owners to use trigger locks on their firearms to prevent accidental firings by children.
Last night’s vote followed months of debate, including an eight-hour hearing on the subject that set a new record for the city’s longest ever council hearing. Council members and observers had been predicting a split vote, with passions running strong on both sides. But a series of amendments persuaded even the two council Republicans, Gene Zmuda and Rob Ludeman, to approve the ordinance.
“I want to be clear that this is not a change of heart,” Mr. Ludeman said. “This was a change in the legislation.”
Among the changes that the amendments make: the penalty for firearm dealers for not posting a sign warning about the new law is reduced, the ordinance is restricted so it does not apply to someone under a specific threat, and the ordinance automatically expires after three years, so council can decide if it wants to make its provisions permanent.
The ordinance makes an excep tion for owners who have a gun stolen. If that gun is used by someone under 18, the owner is not liable.
Council took a rare 20-minute recess before voting on the ordinance, in order to consider the numerous amendments.
However, when they returned, members voted 12-0 to approve each of the 10 amendments and then 12-0 on the entire ordinance.
Proponents were quick to claim victory, but opponents said the vote was neither a win nor a loss for their cause.
“This is still going to have a chilling effect on people’s ability to feel comfortable having a gun available when they need it for self-defense,” said John Mueller, who led the opposition to the gun ordinance. “There’s no government that can create a one-size-fits-all safety law. This was probably the best compromise we could reach.”
The ordinance that was passed was one of four introduced last year by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. Council members repeatedly singled out him for criticism, saying he introduced legislation that was ham-fisted and unpass able.
“For the other three, let’s make sure the mayor does the job of sitting down with [gun-control opponents] and hammering out this sort of compromise,” Mr. Zmuda said.
The three other ordinances will be brought up again in March, after council finishes its budgeting process for 1999. Ms. Hoover and Peter Ujvagi, council member at large, said that they expect those ordinances – which include the registration of handguns and the banning of some handguns and assault weapons – will be even more controversial.
Council deferred most of the rest of its legislation to future meetings or council committees.
The body passed only nine ordinances, pushing back action on 27 others. Along with minor zoning changes, council unanimously approved the design of the facade of the Superior Street Garage expansion downtown.