COLUMBUS, Ohio – A ballot campaign to restore control over guns to Ohio cities is the latest move by Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld to distinguish himself from his opponents in the state’s closely watched race for U.S. Senate.
Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati city councilman, announced Thursday that he’s joining forces with gun control groups to push an amendment to Ohio’s Constitution as soon as this fall that would to restore home-rule rights to cities so they can pass and enforce their own gun laws.
“We simply believe that cities wishing to enact common sense reforms should be able to, while those that don’t should be free to keep things as they are,” he said at a news conference. “But whatever they decide should be done with the consent and support of the people who live there, not handed down as edicts by Columbus politicians.”
Sittenfeld has made gun safety a central issue of his campaign against Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland and their shared rival, incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman. He said the ballot effort will go forward whether or not he wins the Democratic nomination over Strickland in March and proceeds to face Portman in November. Both Strickland and Portman have supported gun rights and gotten high marks from the National Rifle Association.
“This is about a lot more than me and my campaign,” he said. “This is a campaign of, by and for the people of Ohio, and it’s about restoring a right to them that the Legislature should never have taken away.”
The initiated constitutional amendment would seek to reverse a 2006 state law that pre-empted local gun laws, such as concealed-weapon restrictions or assault-weapon bans, in favor of state-level regulation. At least 20 Ohio cities had some type of restriction in place that was nullified by the law, Sittenfeld said.
Jim Irvine, board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said the law addressed “a patchwork of laws that just made no sense.” He said the ballot effort is the last option for opponents of gun rights whose views are out of step with public opinion, the Legislature and the courts.
“That’s why they go to this route. Because they can’t win on the facts, they can’t win on their twisted logic, so they’ll try and win with Bloomberg’s money,” he said.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is considering an independent run for president, is a vocal proponent of gun control who’s bankrolling the group Everytown for Gun Safety. The billionaire has used his fortune to support candidates who oppose the NRA and the group is working toward 2016 ballot measures in Nevada and Maine.
Two Ohio-based groups, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and God Against Guns, support Sittenfeld’s effort. He said he’s also in conversations with national interests he didn’t name. Asked whether he’d have enough money to run an effective campaign for the gun amendment, Sittenfeld said simply, “Yes.” A message was left with Bloomberg’s group, Everytown for Gun Safety, seeking comment.
Sittenfeld’s group hopes to submit its first 1,000 signatures by March, then would have until July 6 to gather another roughly 300,000 that are required to make the ballot. He said they’ll come back in future years, if need be.
Irvine said pre-emption is settled law and his group’s not worried: “They’re still wrong, and we’ll still win.”