Ohio can enforce a state law intended to ensure uniform firearms regulations across localities.
That’s the ruling a unanimous three-judge panel of the state’s Tenth District Court of Appeals handed down on Tuesday. The decision reverses a preliminary injunction issued by a lower court judge to the city of Columbus, Ohio last year. The appeals panel found that injunction came years after the law the city sought to block had already been implemented, upending the status quo rather than preserving it.
“Although the City sought in 2019 a remedy that would have maintained the status quo at that time, the trial court instead rendered an order in 2022 that prohibited the State from enforcing a controlling Ohio statute due to constitutional deficiencies yet to be proven,” Judge Carly Edelstein, a Democrat, wrote for the court. “This order went beyond the scope and purpose of preliminary injunctive relief—’to preserve the relative positions of the parties until a trial on the merits can be held.'”
The ruling is a blow to gun-control advocates and city lawmakers who want to institute stricter gun laws at the local level than what has been allowed by the state. It puts the state’s pre-emption law back into effect, which provides a legal path for lawsuits against localities filed by the people who fall under their jurisdiction. Ohio’s preemption law awards legal fees to anyone who wins a suit against localities that attempt to institute their own gun laws. So, Columbus and other localities that try to stand by their restrictions could face steep legal bills down the line.
Since it was granted a preliminary injunction last year, Columbus has instituted an ammunition magazine capacity limit and gun storage law. In April, the city announced its first prosecution under the storage law over an incident where a child fired an unsecured gun. The defendant in that case pled guilty and received ten days in prison, a 170-day suspended sentence, two years probation, and had to surrender his firearm.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein defended the local gun restrictions as important tools for preventing violence.
“We’ve seen time and again that this legislature would rather pass more laws to appease gun lobbyists than listen to the people of Ohio who are pleading for us to do something about gun violence,” he told The Reload. “If the State isn’t interested in addressing the threat of gun violence to public safety, then it’s our job as cities to step in to fill that leadership void.”
He noted the ruling did not address the merits of whether the state preemption law violates the city’s right to home rule under the state constitution. He vowed to continue fighting the case.
“We respect the Court’s decision and look forward to continuing to make our case on behalf of the residents of Columbus who want nothing more than to have less gun violence and safer neighborhoods,” Klein said.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R.) took a different view of the situation. He cheered the decision and argued the state’s preemption law is necessary to prevent a web of different laws from developing across the state.
“The court’s ruling assures that all Ohioans must abide by the same law, state law, when it comes to firearms,” Yost said in a statement. “Just like we argued in court, firearms owners statewide should have to follow the same rules. We applaud the decision.”
Judge Edelstein said the timeliness of the injunction wasn’t the only issue. She argued the lower court flipped the burden for who has to show they were harmed.
“In analyzing the third factor—whether third parties would be unjustifiably harmed if the injunction against amended R.C. 9.68 is granted—the trial court erroneously tasked the State with proving such harm would result,” she wrote. “But, the burden of disproving any such harm lay instead with the City.”
The panel concluded the injunction against the state law “was an abuse of discretion.”
“In addition to its impermissible overbreadth, the second, third, and fourth preliminary injunction factors are not supported by clear and convincing evidence in the record due to the staleness of the information presented in 2019 and the change in status quo since that time,” Judge Edelstein wrote. “The arguments and evidence presented by the City in 2019 in support of its motion for a preliminary injunction against amended R.C. 9.68 did not clearly and convincingly warrant its issuance in 2022. And the trial court did not address that passage of time in its decision or otherwise address the effect significantly changed circumstances had on its analysis of the evidence and arguments presented in 2019. Furthermore, we find the trial court misstated the burden of proof associated with the third and fourth factors. And, most critically, we find an adequate remedy at law—in the form of a permanent injunction against amended R.C. 9.68 or a declaration of its unconstitutionality following a trial on the merits—was available to the City when the preliminary injunction was issued, especially because the amended version of R.C. 9.68 has already been in effect for three and one-half years.”
The case will now be sent back down to the lower court for further proceedings.
UPDATE 8-17-2023 8:34 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated with comment from the Columbus city attorney.