Fairfield City Council open to discussing allowing guns at meetings

Fairfield City Council are mixed about allowing council members with CCW permits to carry at meetings, something the city of Monroe is considering. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

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Fairfield City Council are mixed about allowing council members with CCW permits to carry at meetings, something the city of Monroe is considering. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

While Monroe City Council took another step toward allowing members to carry a firearm during meetings, Fairfield City Council members are not unanimous in supporting a similar piece of legislation. But most would say they’d entertain the discussion.

RELATED: Monroe takes next step in allowing council to carry guns at meetings

“We’re in some crazy, crazy times and we do have some protection,” Councilman Ron D’Epifanio said of Fairfield Police Chief Steve Maynard’s attendance, or a designee, at every meeting, “but we’re sitting ducks. I think it’s better to be overly protected than under protected.”

D’Epifanio would recommend any government employee authorized to carry in a government facility should re-qualify at a range every two years. CCW permit licenses are valid for five years. “You don’t want it to be like Dodge City,” he said.

But Mayor Steve Miller said while it’s a City Council decision — the mayor of Fairfield only votes in the event of a tie — he would encourage the city not to move in this direction.

“I think our council meetings are very well protected and safe,” said Miller. “I don’t see the necessity for us to carry guns.”

Miller said there are safety protocols in place and doesn’t think it’s a necessity now.

Ohio law allows local governments to adopt a policy that allows valid concealed carry permit holders to bring a concealed handgun into a government building. State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, introduced last year a bill that would allow valid CCW permit holders the ability to carry concealed firearms in certain government buildings, but that bill has failed to receive a committee hearing.

RELATED: A closer look at Madison school district’s plan to arm teachers, staff

Monroe Council on Tuesday moved forward with a resolution to enable its elected leaders to be the first in Butler County to carry a firearm at meetings, provided they have a concealed carry permit, with a majority of council supporting a first reading of the resolution.

Most on Fairfield’s council admit they haven’t thought about the idea until Monroe’s decision to debate the issue surfaced, but most said it is worth a discussion.

“I haven’t thought about it much, but I don’t know why I woudn’t (support such legislation),” said Councilman Chad Oberson. “I would entertain a discussion, and I would need to know the downsides of it.”

Councilwoman Debbie Pennington said she too “would consider talking about it.”

“We are a team, and I would like to discuss it to see where everybody’s thoughts are,” she said.

Issues Monroe’s mayor, Robert Routson, wants to get answers on include how it would affect the city’s insurance rates and any liability issues.

RELATED: Some Butler County leaders want option to carry guns at council meetings

Fairfield Councilwoman Leslie Besl said while her “knee-jerk reaction” is to say she’d be fine with it, “I would like to look into that a little more to see if that’s been done in other places.”

The city of Wyoming, in Hamilton County, did for a short time in 2017 — about a month — allow anyone with a valid CCW permit to carry a concealed weapon into the council chambers and select city facilities.

The measure was rescinded because of “the division in the community this matter has caused,” Wyoming Mayor Barry Porter told this new outlet earlier this month.

Councilman Tim Abbott said the city has “very good protocols and annual training in place,” but this is a topic that needs more discussion.

“I certainly want all of our employees and officials to be safe, and with more information, it’s probably something I could support,” he said.

Councilman Bill Woeste is his initial reaction as a citizen, “I don’t think I want my city council packing firearms.”

But as a City Council member, it has to be discussed, he said.

“The problem with city council meetings, or any kind of public meeting, they can get a little volatile at times. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have firearms there. I don’t think I’d want firearms in the hands of people discussing emotional issues.”

But D’Epifanio isn’t the only one that would support legislation allowing council members to carry a firearm.

"I feel safe in council meetings now, but it just adds another layer of defense for us in case something would happen," said Vice Mayor Craig Keller.

This article contains previous reporting by staff writer Ed Richter.

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Madison Local School Board approved a measure to allow teachers and staff to carry a concealed weapon, and Monroe City Council is considering legislation to allow its council members to carry during meetings. Are these the right moves? Tell us online at Facebook.com/JournalNews.

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