Butler County officials react to Ohio governor’s gun violence plan

Scene in the Oregon District where 10 people were killed, including the shooter, in a mass shooting that also injured more than two dozen others. The shooting took place in the 400 block of East Fifth Street at 1:07 A.M. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Scene in the Oregon District where 10 people were killed, including the shooter, in a mass shooting that also injured more than two dozen others. The shooting took place in the 400 block of East Fifth Street at 1:07 A.M. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Butler County officials say it is too soon to know the possible impact of Gov. Mike DeWine’s gun violence reduction proposals on county services, but they say it could be significant.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Dayton on Sunday morning, the governor has proposed 17 initiatives aimed at curbing gun violence, proposals that give attention to prevention, mental health help and stiffer penalties for felons to name a few.

“Gun violence doesn’t just take the form of mass shootings, people are victims every day in Ohio and across the country,” DeWine said. “I believe that this is both a public safety issue and an individual wellness issue — we must address both sides to help solve the problem. It’s time to do something, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

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Nine people were killed in Dayton’s Oregon District and dozens more were injured when 24-year-old Connor Betts opened fire near Ned Peppers Bar on East Fifth Street. Police arrived in less than a minute and killed Betts.

Passing a law that would allow the courts to issue civil protection orders to get guns away from dangerous people and get them mental health treatment is a possible action that could have a sizable impact, according to Butler County Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Noah Powers.

“It could have a tremendous impact because you’re talking about increasing penalties on all kinds of things and they are also talking about a creating a completely different set of procedures with respect to civil protection orders,” Powers said. “It’s going to increase the number of people that we have to address because we already have a full load of people with civil protection orders… We’ll probably have to increase the size of the staff to address that.”

The governor also wants the legislature to pass a law requiring background checks for all firearm sales, except gifts between family members. Butler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said it is unclear if the sheriff’s office would be required to do the background checks, so the potential impact can’t be known. But this proposed law would be difficult to enforce since private gun sales are loosely regulated now.

“I can sell you a gun without a background check, I’m not a licensed dealer, there is no law that prohibits me from selling that gun,” Dwyer said. “There are laws that prohibit the sale of handguns to certain aged people but for two grown adults, I can sell you a gun without any notoriety, I don’t even have to document it in any way, shape or form. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Residents are also guaranteed the right to bear arms, so police cannot engage with individuals who are merely carrying a weapon and not pointing it at anyone. This makes policing difficult at times, according to Dwyer.

“There are places that are restricted based on alcohol sales, and private businesses have certain rights to restrict what they allow in,” Dwyer said. “But generally speaking, in an open area where no specific restrictions are incurred you can openly carry a weapon and police have no ability to stop you, or detain you or question you about why you’re doing it.”

The governor also wants early intervention to flag and get help for kids who might be showing signs they need mental health treatment and other support. The new biennium budget includes $675 million in wrap-around services for schools to design individualized programs for students.

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Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said he has advocated for red flagging for years, even wrote a paper with a recommendation several years back.

“Probably the most expensive calibration of this whole thing would be to start making required evaluations of all students, of all schools from second grade on, with respect to those that have signs of alienation, signs of lack of bonding, social indifference and things of that nature,” he said. “And track those children throughout their minority.”

He said he knows his approach is cost prohibitive, but the governor’s “red flag law is probably a good idea and should be adopted.”

Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, said the governor’s ideas are good, and so is the funding, since his board will likely be tasked with implementing some of the plans here. He said the only negative impact of the proposals are the tone.

“I have concerns about stigmatizing those with mental illness as violent,” he said. “There is only a small percentage of those with mental illness that present with violence, I think it’s less than 5 percent.”

There are also seven provisions increasing penalties for various felony crimes, like people who do not have the legal right to carry because of previous bad acts. Court records show there have been 1,218 felony cases so far this year, 112 involving firearms in some way and 61 involving people who had guns “under a disability.”

Powers said judges “cringe” at mandatory minimums, because a person’s punishment is best decided on a case-by-case basis. He said he can understand why the governor, at whom a crowd in Dayton chanted at to “do something” when he visited the scene Sunday, would want to address the issue quickly, but that can be problematic.

“Sometimes if you move forward too fast without investigating it fully you can come out with a knee jerk reaction and it doesn’t really appropriately address (the issue),” Powers said adding gun violence could stem from any number of things. “We really have to get to the heart of what it is.”