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Keating proposes local laws on lost or stolen guns as a way to reduce violence

Council Member Liz Keating at a podium
Becca Costello
Council Member Liz Keating introduced two ordinances aimed at cracking down on lost and stolen guns used in crimes on December 6, 2023.

Cincinnati City Council Member Liz Keating wants to crack down on lost and stolen guns used in crimes, with two ordinances introduced this week.

State law already requires reporting the loss or theft of a firearm. One of Keating's ordinances would make it a local-level crime to fail to report a lost or stolen firearm, allowing city police and prosecutors to enforce reporting and establish penalties.

"Many times we see gun owners handing out their guns to family members and friends," Keating said. "And until it shows up at a crime scene or is confiscated by the police ... only then do those gun owners claim that it was stolen and asked to have it returned."

The city ordinance would make it a fourth degree misdemeanor to fail to immediately report the loss or theft of a firearm, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. Or, it could also be cited as a Class D civil offense, with a $750 fine.

RELATED: Court issues injunction in Cincinnati's battle with Ohio over gun restrictions

A second measure would allow the police department to charge a $200 fee to get a lost or stolen firearm back if that firearm wasn't properly reported as lost or stolen. The fee is aimed at recouping the cost of processing the return, including verifying ownership and running a background check.

Police Chief Teresa Theetge would also be authorized to establish an internal storage policy for recovered weapons; if guns are not claimed they can be destroyed or used "for appropriate law enforcement purposes."

CPD shared several examples of letters written to recover a supposedly stolen firearm. Keating says the letters showing the "negligence and absolute stupidity" of some gun owners, like by leaving a firearm on top of their car before driving off.

"Another gun owner left their firearm on a chair at a family restaurant; this is a family restaurant that I have taken my preschool-aged children to multiple times," Keating said. "We are barred from penalizing that gun owner for the negligence. But we can protect our taxpayer dollars from being wasted on that reckless behavior."

Keating emphasizes the $200 fee would not be charged if the gun owner properly reported the firearm as lost or stolen, even if the circumstances could be considered negligent. She says state lawmakers should address the issue, like by requiring that guns left in a vehicle be further secured in a locked safe.

Read the letters provided by CPD below (story continues after):

City Solicitor Emily Smart Woerner says the city is very limited in enacting local gun regulations because of state law.

"We could do so much more, and so much more directly, and so much more effectively, if the state would simply get out of our way," Woerner said.

The city is suing the state over the 2019 law that prohibits municipalities from passing most gun regulations. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Jennifer Branch issued a preliminary injunction in that case in September, pending a final decision.

Earlier this year, City Council passed two local gun laws: requiring safe storage of firearms around children, and allowing for local enforcement of the federal ban on people with a domestic violence conviction possessing a firearm. Solicitor Woerner says someone charged under the safe storage law is challenging the ordinance in court, but the city is continuing to charge suspects while the case is pending.

RELATED: Cincinnati struggling with 'record' juvenile gun violence, police say

Keating's ordinances will be heard in the Public Safety and Governance Committee next week and could get a final vote as soon as Wednesday.

Keating lost a bid for re-election in November and will leave office at the end of the year.

"As a mother, I could not be more proud as one of my final acts on council to be able to do something to be able to protect the lives of our children," Keating said. "And I am so grateful for all of you to have worked alongside of you the last three years."

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.