The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Opponents lined up Tuesday against a measure to cut federal firearm provisions out of Ohio’s state law. The measure’s proponents argue it will keep federal agencies from commandeering local officers. Committee speakers forcefully rejected that argument.
More than 80 people submitted testimony in opposition of the proposal ahead of the committee hearing. More than a dozen of them showed up in person. Among the organizations pushing back on the effort are the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police.
A federal judge struck down a similar law in Missouri last week. That measure provided the template for Ohio’s legislation.
Louis Tobin, who heads up the prosecutor’s association, allowed that if lawmakers want to pass anti-commandeering legislation, they can do it. But he argued the bill goes a few important steps beyond that by defining purported “infringements” on Second Amendment rights.
“So not only is Ohio law enforcement not allowed to cooperate with federal law enforcement, they will be duty bound to stand in the way of the federal government and their efforts to enforce federal law,” Tobin said. “This goes beyond basic principles of anti-commandeering in an express attempt to constrain the operations of the federal government.”
He added those so-called “infringements” don’t necessarily line up with Second Amendment jurisprudence and would likely violate the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
“The General Assembly cannot purport to declare what is constitutional and then impose its own concept of what’s constitutional on the courts in Ohio,” he said.
Two themes emerged among the arguments presented Tuesday — concerns about rising violence and creating a ‘chilling effect’ on cooperation with federal agencies.
Increased gun violence
Tobin noted state law in Ohio already lacks restrictions that would keep guns out of the hands of those with certain restraining orders or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. The measure would define those individuals as “law abiding citizens” under Ohio law. Prosecuting them for improper gun possession would be very difficult.
Tobin added, “The Ohio domestic violence network fatality report for 2021-2022, there are 112 intimate partner relationship fatalities between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. And 91% of those fatalities involve with gun.”
Elizabeth Overmier serves on the executive committee for Brady Ohio, and she brought up the story of a Amanda Mangas from Delta, Ohio. Mangas was shot and killed by her former partner and father of their son Winston. She had gotten a restraining order against the man but he still was still able to get a gun.
“Amanda didn’t get to finish her nursing degree. She didn’t get to celebrate Winston’s first birthday or take him to his first day of school,” Overmier said. “She and Winston have lost six years of holidays, and that number is never ending. Winston has been without his mother for 2,191 days. Another number that won’t stop.”
Mary Miller, from Novelty, Ohio, explained she comes from a family where “baptisms, weddings, and even memorial services should be scheduled around hunting season.”
Still, she expressed deep concern about the spread of gun violence.
She’s a trustee for Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s hospital and relayed a report from their chief pediatric surgeon.
“He told us that last year they saw 70 children under the age of 16 with gunshot wounds,” she said. “Thirty — thirty children returned with a second gunshot wound within a year.”
Ryan Bokoch addressed the committee on behalf of the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. He described how much they rely on resources from federal agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, of ATF. Hits on the agency’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network are “oftentimes the first lead” in a case, he explained. In 2022 alone, he said, Cuyahoga agencies entered 8,697 cartridge casings in the system.
“Nearly 26% of them had some type of lead,” he said, “again this is a system which is run by the ATF.”
Bokoch described a case last year in which local agencies working with FBI task force officers recovered a gun from a vehicle suspected in recent robberies and shootings. Thanks to the NIBIN database they were able to connect it to an incident in Cleveland Heights a month earlier.
Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, asked him directly if he believed the bill would stop those partnerships. Bokoch was unequivocal.
“Yes,” he said, “House Bill 51, the language states that someone can’t be operating under the color of federal authority, which is exactly what happens with task force officers.”
Supporters try to get around this by including language that allows local agencies to accept federal support, but demanding that they put it use enforcing state, and not federal, law. Agencies that enforce federal statutes could face $50,000 penalties.
“It’s the fear of that lawsuit, I believe, is what is the teeth of this bill,” Bokoch said. “That’s what’s gonna prevent people from communicating.”
He predicted the threat of that penalty would lead local agencies to enter fewer casings in the NIBIN database and encourage officers to drop off task forces.
“That’s the teeth,” he reiterated, “The money doesn’t come out of my pocket, it stops those agencies from communicating with one another. And that’s the danger. That’s the risk to public safety in the state of Ohio.”