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Republican lawmakers want to stop Ohio cities from regulating businesses to curb gun violence

 The Ohio Statehouse cupola.
Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau

It was a quiet weekend in one of the most popular entertainment districts in Ohio. Normally that wouldn’t make news. But after two straight weekends of gun violence in Columbus' Short North neighborhood, the mayor called for bars and restaurants in the area to shut down early.

But two Republican state lawmakers want to prevent other cities from imposing those kinds of rules on businesses.

Food truck vendors in the popular Short North arts and entertainment district were ordered to close at midnight by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (D). They complied. He also asked bars and restaurants to voluntarily shut down at the same time, which had mixed results.

Ginther said he was temporarily employing those measures to help the city after the recent shootings in the area. Republican state lawmakers have been expanding gun rights for years, but Columbus also passed some gun regulations in December. The city is now locked in a court battle with the state over whether it can impose those rules.

Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Pickerington) said he believes the temporary shutdown of businesses was unfair to the owners of street carts, restaurants and bars.

“The city is picking winners and losers here. They’re not focused on the problem. Essentially, by doing this, it’s almost like they are catering to the criminals,” LaRe said. “Rather than addressing that issue, they are just trying to punish those law-abiding citizens or businesses.”

LaRe said his bill, which he’s sponsoring with Rep. DJ Swearingen (R-Huron), is still being drafted, but it would restrict cities from putting any type of curfew in place other than to restrict minors or in case of an emergency. He also said if it becomes law, the situation in Columbus wouldn’t qualify.

“I don’t consider it an emergency. I mean obviously, it’s troubling and it’s very concerning for the community,” LaRe said.

LaRe called Ginther’s order and request for early closings “government overreach” that hurt the bottom line of businesses. He also said the economic impact was not limited to restaurants or food truck vendors.

“You’ve got Uber drivers who are providing a service and now you hear that they are getting ticketed for stopping curbside to wait for their fare,” LaRe said.

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said the problem with escalating crimes in one of the city’s premier entertainment districts, as well as other parts of Columbus, must be approached from many angles. He said the city has recorded 60 homicides this year, and is on track to recover more guns than ever in a single year.

On May 6, 10 people were hurt in a shootout in the Short North that resulted in police firing their own weapons and seizing 11 guns. The following weekend, a 21-year-old man was shot and killed.

“As city leaders, we must continue to be clear about what it takes to make our neighborhoods safe: police, prosecution, people and the political will at the state and federal level to enact effective gun laws,” Klein said. “Police need resources and additional personnel to deter crime and respond when it occurs. Prosecutors and judges must prosecute violent and dangerous criminals to the fullest extent of the law, and people in our city need the support and opportunity to live a better life. And finally, we need Republican politicians at the state and federal level to find the courage to step up and pass effective, popularly-supported gun laws.“

There was an increased police presence in the Short North area this weekend. Extra lighting was brought in for certain areas and no-stopping zones were enforced.

Ginther is asking for his order shutting down food trucks to become a city ordinance at Monday’s Columbus City Council meeting. He isn’t saying how long he’ll be asking businesses to curtail their hours of operation.

Contact Jo Ingles at