On the eve of the Oregon District mass shooting’s third anniversary, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Nan Whaley denounced Republican incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine as a “complete coward” on gun legislation.
After a crowd of Daytonians chanted “Do something” at him in the wake of the shooting, DeWine pledged to take action on gun violence, but Whaley said he “gave up without a fight when the politics got too hard.” Whaley was mayor of Dayton at the time of the shooting.
The “Strong Ohio” package of gun reforms DeWine backed has gone nowhere in the General Assembly, and since the Oregon District shooting he has signed several bills that loosen gun laws, Whaley said. She cited Senate Bill 175, the “stand your ground” law; House Bill 215, allowing permitless concealed carry of handguns; and House Bill 99, allowing teachers and other school personnel to carry guns in schools with a few hours of training.
In response, DeWine’s campaign criticized Whaley for seeking to make the occasion an issue.
“It’s disturbing that Mayor Whaley is using a horrific shooting as a political stunt to promote herself and myopic policies,” said Tricia McLaughlin, the campaign director of communications.
As evidence of DeWine’s concern for gun violence, his campaign pointed to the tremendous increase in Ohio warrants entered into federal crime databases, searchable by law enforcement. DeWine created a task force to improve issuance and service of warrants, and in early July rolled out a new voluntary system for counties to record and share warrants electronically.
Whaley recounted the Oregon District shooting, in which a “troubled young man with too-easy access to a powerful gun” killed nine people and injured 37 just after 1 a.m. Aug. 4, 2019, in the city’s historic entertainment district. The gunman was quickly killed by police, but that wasn’t enough to prevent many deaths and injuries, she said.
“There were ‘good guys with guns’ literally a block away,” Whaley said.
Whaley said she would seek to roll back the gun laws DeWine has signed, work to require universal background checks for gun purchases, and use the incentives recently created by the federal Safer Communities Act to promote “red flag laws” that reduce mass shootings and suicides. That legislation, which passed in June supported by all Democrats and a few Republicans, includes $750 million in grants over five years for states to create extreme risk protection order programs, known as “red flag laws.”
Polls tracked by FiveThirtyEight show Whaley trailing DeWine, by 30% to 45% as of late May, but her support has climbed steadily for several months while his remained relatively stable.
Whaley noted the large number of undecided voters, who she said are still getting to know her in her first statewide race, while DeWine has been well known across Ohio for decades. She said her opinions align with the majority of the public on issues including gun safety and abortion.
DeWine has also supported several bills to dramatically restrict abortions, one of which – the “Heartbeat Bill” took effect in June after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Whaley supports legal abortion access; the ruling overturning Roe has increased Democratic hopes of driving strong voter turnout in what has been expected to be a Republican-leaning year.
Whaley acknowledged that her proposals would face a legislature in which Republicans now hold a supermajority. But she noted that current state House and Senate district maps, expected to still favor Republicans, must be redrawn yet again before the 2024 election.