Cleveland’s Justin Bibb, Akron's Dan Horrigan, other Ohio mayors plan task force on gun violence

 Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, seen here speaking at a May news conference on public safety, joined with other mayors Monday to announce a task force on gun violence.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, seen here speaking at a May news conference on public safety, joined with other mayors Monday to announce a task force on gun violence. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Ohio Democratic mayors and big city police leaders on Monday decried recent Republican-backed state gun laws, saying they plan to form their own task force to thwart shootings in their cities.

The mayors held an hourlong virtual news conference the same day Gov. Mike DeWine signed a law setting a 24-hour training requirement for teachers who carry guns in school. A separate state law, allowing the concealed carrying of a gun without a permit, also goes into effect Monday.

Speaking on Monday’s call were Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr. and Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. Police brass from Cleveland, Akron and Columbus also spoke.

The mayors invoked not just mass shootings, but also the drumbeat of smaller-scale incidents of gun violence across their cities. The availability of guns made it easy for small disputes to escalate into deadly gunfire, they said.

Bibb said he and other mayors "don't have the luxury" to be "passing the buck to the next legislative session."

“Our residents want the streets safe every single day,” he said.

Mayors have long said their hands were tied by a 2006 state law preempting local gun restrictions. Now Columbus is considering a new approach using a public health nuisance law as a workaround.

Bibb spoke favorably of Columbus’ efforts, saying the new task force would explore that avenue. He said he had instructed his own law director to find “creative legal strategies and tactics to crack down on the prevalence of illegal guns, and guns in general” in Cleveland.

The mayor reiterated his plans to spend federal stimulus money on neighborhood violence interruption programs. The city is also using a state grant to expand its surveillance capabilities.

“We are actively looking at ways in Cleveland to really stop crime before it starts,” Bibb said. “And we are taking a public health perspective to address the leading causes of gun violence that plague our city day in and day out.”

Bibb said that he opposed arming teachers in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and urged the school board and district CEO not to allow it.

Cleveland has already seen more than 50 gun-related homicides this year, according to city officials. The mayor said Cleveland faith leaders are planning walks this summer in neighborhoods that are hotspots for gun violence. Police will be walking those beats, too, interim Chief of Police Wayne Drummond said.

Police officers will also ask people if they are armed at traffic stops and other encounters, Drummond said. The permitless concealed carry law removed an earlier requirement that motorists proactively disclose that they have a gun.

Akron Deputy Chief Brian Harding said the changing of that notification requirement could endanger officers at traffic stops.

“I think our community is less safe than they would be, with this new bill being passed,” he said.

Bibb called the recently announced bipartisan gun safety proposal in the U.S. Senate “a good step in the right direction.” He said he would also like a higher age restriction for gun purchases, among other policy changes aimed at background checks and training.

“No one in this state, particularly young people, should be able to walk around the streets with an AR-15,” he said. “It’s unconscionable, in my opinion.”

Kapszukiewicz, the Toledo mayor, was particularly critical of DeWine. He said the Republican governor “gave in like a coward” by signing the new laws a few years after a crowd urged him to “do something” in the wake of the 2019 Oregon District shooting in Dayton.

That shooting, in which 10 people died including the gunman, brought DeWine together with then-Mayor Nan Whaley. The two are now political rivals this year, as Whaley challenges DeWine with the support of the mayors on Monday’s call.

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