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Can Cincinnati City Hall override state law to stop gun violence?

Officials looking to curb increased gun violence
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Posted at 7:37 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 19:37:21-04

CINCINNATI — Recent shootings and a new state law expanding gun access have some in Cincinnati asking what they can do to stop the violence. However, implementing new local laws driving stronger gun control won’t be easy.

Various city officials have spoken out against the area’s gun violence and called for stronger gun safety, but despite their opposition to Gov. Mike DeWine’s newly signed law expanding access to guns, they say their options for challenging it at the local level are limited.

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said the city is barred from overriding state laws because of what’s called “a preemption law.” That law allows the state to negate local laws that conflict with state law.

“Because of that preemption law, we cannot regulate guns at all in the city. And so what our legal department is doing is challenging that preemption law that says we can’t challenge state laws about gun regulation,” Lemon Kearney said.

Lemon Kearney said that if the city currently tries to sidestep state law by enforcing stricter gun control locally, it could face steep legal fees as high as $500,000. She said the city has to take alternate routes to curb the violence until it can take legislative action.

“We have to look at education and safety measures until we can actually challenge that state law," Lemon Kearney said.

That is why the city is turning towards supporting gun violence education through partnering with gun safety advocates. One of those advocates is Whitney Austin, the cofounder of the WhitneyStrong Foundation.

“You don't have to change this via legislation alone,” Austin said. "You can teach people what to do today to make their communities safer."

Austin was shot multiple times in a mass shooting at the Fifth Third Building in 2018. WhitneyStrong receives funds from the city for offering free trainings on how people can protect themselves if they’re caught in a shooting incident. Austin had words of advice for anyone who may have been traumatized by the gun violence in Oakley and Over-the-Rhine.

“You should seek help," Austin said. "And as to how you seek help, whether it's through a therapist, talking to someone that you trust within your family or within your network, that you should seek help and talk to someone.”

Lemon Kearney said they are continuing to push for legal change, but the wheels of justice can turn slowly. She said the city’s challenge to the state’s preemptive law was thrown out in a lower court and is currently in an appellate court. It’s unclear when the court action over this will come to a close.

Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.

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