Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ohio gun homicides soar after legislature bans local gun laws

The mass shooters' weapon of choice is the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle dubbed "America's most popular rifle" by the gun lobbyist organization the NRA. It's also the most popular rifle among mass shooters, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. 
The AR-15 made appearances in mass shootings at a school in Parkland, Florida, a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a country music festival in Las Vegas, an Orlando, Florida night club, a workplace in San Bernardino, California, and so on. 
The scope of such mass tragedies often are followed by impassioned debates about gun rights, and what, if anything, communities can do to restrict access to firearms.
Such discussions by local lawmakers in Ohio are largely moot.
In 2006, the state's rural legislators rewrote the laws for urban areas where most of the gun murders occur. In doing so, they wiped away dozens of municipal ordinances enacted by cities like Cleveland.
Since then gun homicides are up 60 percent in Ohio's six big urban counties, and 39 percent in throughout the rest of the state.
The state law change cannot directly be linked to the increase in gun deaths (which are also up nationally), but it leaves local leaders powerless to experiment with laws that might make their communities safer.
The change banned local laws more restrictive than state gun laws.
The Ohio Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the new state law, wiping out about 80 local gun laws, including assault-weapons bans in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo.
To advocates such as the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, changes in gun laws -  from the ban on local ordinances to a loosening of concealed weapon restrictions - are tied to the increase in gun deaths: "The reason to me is that they (guns) are more accessible," founder Toby Hoover said.
But to the Buckeye Firearms Association, local ordinances are burdens to law-abiding citizens traveling from one city to another, and did little to deter crime: "The only thing any city could ever do was make a crime that is a misdemeanor. ... With state law, almost everything is a felony, more jail time and higher fines,"  the association's president, Jim Irvine said during an interview with earlier this year.
Rural/urban divide
What state lawmakers did in 2006 was the rarest of circumstances. The Republican majority, with key help from some Democrats, voted to override a veto by their party's own governor, Republican Gov. Bob Taft.
Yes, there was a strong divide along political lines. Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate voted 75-4 in favor of overriding the veto; the vote in favor of the override was 17-29 among Democrats in the two chambers.
But perhaps more significant was the divide between urban and rural legislators, regardless of party affiliation.
State senators and representatives in largely rural parts of Ohio and smaller towns carried the day on a law that disproportionately impacted urban communities.
They voted nearly as a bloc to prevent cities from making decisions on gun laws at the local level. While any city or village of any size could previously have enacted tougher restrictions than the state, this was largely a big-city issue.
The veto override 
Taft, who was raised in Cincinnati and once served as a Hamilton County commissioner, had the backing in his fight against the law from most lawmakers in urban areas.
Among those on the governor's side was Republican state Sen. Steve Stivers of the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington, now a member of Congress, and Lorain County Republican state Sen. Jeffry Armbruster.
But that urban support wasn't enough to prevent the override of Taft's veto. The rural, small town and, in some cases, suburban vote carried the day - the rights of cities to tackle gun laws at the local level were stripped away and hailed as a victory by the National Rifle Association.
14,882 deaths and counting 
Since then, at least 14,882 Ohioans have been killed by gunfire, the latest Ohio Department of Health records show, including partial data for this year. At least 5,334 gun deaths were homicides, the second leading cause behind suicides (9,079).
The trend is heading the wrong way.
Gun homicides were up 54 percent last year over 2007, an increase from 404 to 622 statewide, according to preliminary data for 2017.
Counting all gun deaths, including suicides, accidents, police shootings and undetermined cases, the number was up 47 percent from 1,085 in 2007 to 1,591 last year.
It is a particularly big issue in Ohio's urban areas.
Ohio's six largest counties - the places where opposition was greatest to the change enacted by the 2006 law - account for 42 percent of the population but 72 percent of the gun homicides from 2007 through 2017. (State records are based on where a person resided, not necessarily where the shooting occurred.)
Gun homicides up in urban counties 
Gun homicides were up last year over 2007 in five of the six counties:
Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland) - gun homicides totaled 142 last year, up from 98 in 2007.
Franklin County (Columbus) - 128 last year, up from 60 in 2007.
Hamilton County (Cincinnati) - 74 last year, up from 64 in 2007.
Montgomery County (Dayton) - 39 last year, down from 37 in 2007.
Lucas County (Toledo) - 33 last year, up from 11 in 2007.
Summit County (Akron) - 35 last year, up from 11 in 2007.
For all firearm deaths, including accidents and suicides, the divide is not as wide. The six big counties with 42 percent of the population accounted 51 percent of the reported firearm deaths from 2007 through 2017.
The total gun deaths were up last year in each of the six largest counties from 2007, including highs of 227 in Cuyahoga County and 216 in Franklin County - Ohio's two biggest counties.
 Increase in deaths not just an urban issue
Though the highest per-capita gun death rates are in the urban counties, they increased in less populated parts of the state as well, from 2007 to 2017.
Up 60 percent in the six large urban counties to 451 in 2017.
Up 39 percent in the other 82 counties to 171 in 2017.
Up 31 percent in the six largest counties to 345 in 2017.
Up 50 percent in the other 82 counties to 575 in 2017.
Total (including accidents, police shootings, undetermined)
Up 46 percent in the six largest counties to 813 in the 2017.
Up 48 percent in the other 82 counties to 778 in 2017.
A solution? 
Hoover, from the Coalition Against Gun Violence, believes a return to local control could help, even if local laws can only be misdemeanors with shorter jail time and smaller fines than felonies.
"People want to be law abiding and go along with what the (local) culture accepts," Hoover said during an interview. "If you have an ordinance that says no assault weapons, people will be less likely have an assault weapon."
Irvine, from the Buckeye Firearms, views suicides as a mental health issue unrelated to gun laws, but offers an alternative to reducing homicides.
"If you want to reduce crime, it's a timely arrest of a criminal, prosecution and lengthy prison sentences," Irvine said.
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