Ohio lawmakers hung up on hiring restrictions in Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ bill
A measure eliminating federal firearm provisions from Ohio law is facing a skeptical audience in the Statehouse. Drafters modeled the so-called Second Amendment Preservation Act on a recent Missouri law currently tied up in federal court.
Supporters are particularly angry about regulations proposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They’ve repeatedly raised an upcoming regulation on pistol braces. By removing any reference to federal law and dangling significant fines, they argue, local agencies will not be able to assist federal agencies.
Opponents throughout the law enforcement community contend those changes would be disastrous. Not only would it threaten participation in federal task forces, it would also hamper investigations by closing off access to federal databases like one tracking ballistics.
Since introducing the proposal in March, supporters argue they’ve tailored the bill to address concerns. Tuesday, they expected to introduce that new version in committee. But at the outset, chairman Rep. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, told the panel they would not be considering the substitute bill or taking up the measure for a vote.
Supporters’ reception didn’t get much better from there.
Who can you hire?
Easily the biggest sticking point is a provision that seemingly restricts local agencies from hiring former federal employees. Former Missouri state representative Jered Taylor spoke on behalf of the group Ohio Gun Owners. The Republican sponsor of Missouri’s version of the law argued if someone is going to “enforce federal tyranny on the Ohio citizens, why would we want them to come over and continue to enforce that on our citizens if we believe that it’s unconstitutional?”
Numerous Republicans on the committee got hung up on that restriction. Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, raised the example of former U.S. Attorneys or federal law enforcement more generally.
“Why would we want to not allow local law enforcement to hire somebody who used to work in federal law enforcement?” Seitz asked. “That seems kind of dumb.”
Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, asked if the Highway Patrol could hire a former secret service agent. Not a problem, according to Taylor, “unless they violated the provisions of this bill.”
But the measure lists effectively any firearm restriction as an “infringement.” That includes taxes on purchase, any registration, any prohibition on possession or transfer, or any act to confiscate a firearm.
Attempting to cut through the confusion, Peterson jumped in to suggest the prohibition has to do with employees continuing to enforce federal law after a local agency hired them.
No, Taylor argued, it has to do with whether they previously enforced federal laws in Ohio.
“They were acting against law-abiding citizens in Ohio to enforce federal law,” he said, “Then no, you would not be able to hire that individual.”
The posture was clearly not what committee members wanted to hear. During one of Taylor’s answers, Seitz threw his arms up in disbelief.
Untangling the language
It doesn’t help matters that the federal employee passage reads like a Russian doll of references to other parts of the bill. Taylor’s answers also confused rather than clarified the issue.
His contention that former federal officials would’ve had to operate within Ohio is a generous reading of the statute. It only shows up in the catch-all phrase “or otherwise acting under the color of federal law within the borders of this state.” The portion identifying an “official, agent, employee, or deputy” of the United States is part of a different phrase. It’s the difference of a comma, but an important one.
There’s also reason to accept Rep. Peterson’s reading about continuing enforcement, but it winds up in a puzzling place. While the measure zeroes in on previous federal employees, it also looks forward to violations “after the effective date of this section.” But if the problem is the “infringement” — which, again, the bill defines as nearly any firearm restriction — what does the official’s previous employment matter?
The bill’s consequences
Rep. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, noted the federal official passage metes out agency fines “per employee” rather that “per occurrence.”
Skindell suggested the measure is written so broadly it could keep agencies from hiring veterans. Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, pressed Taylor on how he expected to distinguish the ‘bad’ federal officials from the good ones.
“I am just so blown away here,” she said. “So are you telling us that there’s a litmus test of tyranny on former federal employees before they can become state employees?”
His response that courts would decide, didn’t impress.
“That is actually what you just said,” Galonski said, “am I hearing you right?”
Peterson told Taylor to proceed.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Taylor said, and to Galonski, “No, lady, I think —”
The measure’s opponents jeered, and Peterson quickly stepped in to correct him.
“Sir — Representative Galonksi, Representative Galonski. Please.”
This time it was Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, sitting directly across the aisle from Galonski, who was looking around in angry disbelief.
After Rep. James Hoops, R-Napoleon, asked Taylor to address the concerns raised by local law enforcement, Taylor offered a blunt assessment.
“They want to gut the bill. They want to remove the piece that holds them accountable,” he said, adding, “I want to protect law-abiding citizens in Ohio who want to protect their gun rights, while also giving law enforcement the ability to do their job.”
That dismissal didn’t sit well with Hoops.
“I think the sheriffs here in Ohio, they’re law-abiding. They wanted to see people protected and they also believe in gun rights, too,” Hoops said. “So to say some of the comments you made, you know, I question that.”
The key problem for Taylor and his fellow supporters might be that they’re bumping up on the limits of what Republicans can stomach. Railing against federal firearm provisions is one thing, but defining it as “tyranny,” and by extension, potentially every federal employee as a tyrant, strains credulity.
Speaking after the hearing, Peterson put his finger on the federal employee debate.
“I think in general we all want to make sure people that are good for jobs get hired whether they have federal pedigrees or whether they’re local or state folks,” he said.
But at the same time, Peterson expressed sympathy with the purported central issue of looming pistol brace regulations.
“That’s illegal based upon a decision not made by Congress, but by a federal agency,” Peterson argued, “And I think there’s a broad scope of Ohioans that don’t believe that that’s fair, don’t believe that that is how things should be done.”
“That becomes effective in eight days and that is the sense of urgency,” he added.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.