Gun control measures proposed after Oregon District shooting get first hearing with changes

State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, recently announced he wants to resurrect some of the “Strong Ohio” proposals against gun violence that stalled in the legislature in 2019. His Senate Bill 357 came up for a first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee — but he presented a substitute bill further altering the earlier proposals.

“Everything in this sub bill is about before you buy a gun,” said Dolan, who chairs the finance committee.

During months of campaigning for the Nov. 8 election, legislators heard people statewide asking what they’d do to prevent gun violence, he said.

From speaking with healthcare personnel, law enforcement and others, it became clear the state’s current involuntary commitment program is not sufficient to identify all the at-risk people who shouldn’t be able to buy guns, Dolan said.

His substitute bill adds a sixth “disability” to state laws preventing people from buying guns. Existing ones prohibit fugitives from justice, felons, those who committed juvenile crimes that would be adult felonies, drug addicts and alcoholics, and those with established dangerous mental problems from buying guns, he said.

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Dolan’s bill adds people who go before a behavioral risk assessment team and have been determined to be a “suicidal or homicidal risk.”

Ohio law already prohibits people under age 21 from buying handguns, he said. His bill would add that under-21 buyers of other guns would need a cosigner age 25 or older. There are exceptions for anyone under 21 in law enforcement or the military, Dolan said.

Dolan said police told him a crackdown on “straw purchases” — someone buying a gun on behalf of another person who’s prohibited from doing so — would be a big help.

“My bill would take it from a fourth-degree felony to a second-degree felony,” with a minimum two-year jail term, he said.

Police also said some people on public assistance are prominent among straw purchasers, making cash on the side in exchange for aiding in illegal gun buys, Dolan testified. His bill adds a box to gun-purchase paperwork to ask if buyers are on public assistance, meaning they’d risk losing benefits if caught in a straw purchase, he said.

Under Dolan’s bill, sellers in private gun sales — those outside federally licensed firearm stores — can protect themselves from liability by asking buyers to get a $10 certificate from their local sheriff affirming the purchaser is able to buy a gun.

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It takes too long for protective orders to show up on background checks, Dolan said, so his bill requires that those orders be entered within a day after their issue.

Finally, the bill would appropriate $175 million in federal funds: $85 million for train and hire more mental healthcare workers, and $90 million to build a statewide network of regional healthcare crisis centers statewide, helping to keep people who need treatment out of local jails.

State legislators kicked off their five-week lame-duck session with a full day of hearings, though those bills coming up for the first time Tuesday face an uphill battle to get through both chambers before the session ends. Any bills not making the grade would have to be re-filed for consideration by the 135th General Assembly, which convenes in January.

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