Ohio gun bills seek to curb violence beyond mass shootings

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Police believe that a shooter who killed four members of a family in a West Chester Twp. apartment is not among the dead, West Chester Twp. police Chief Joel Herzog said during a news conference today.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

In the month before and the month after the Aug. 4 Oregon District shootings, seven more people died of gun-related injuries in Butler and Warren counties. In July and September there was one homicide and one suicide by gun in Butler and five suicides in Warren, according to the coroners’ offices.

As the debates on gun legislation have played out in Columbus since Aug. 4, relatives of victims in those other cases say they are looking for ways to curb these other deaths as well while much of the national attention has been directed toward the mass shooting.

Craig Cortner III, a 29-year-old father of three, was shot dead 12 hours before the Oregon District shooting. He was gunned down on South Euclid Street in Dayton’s Edgemont neighborhood and died at an apartment complex. His death is still under investigation.

“They haven’t even caught his killer or killers — we don’t know,” said Tianisha Payne, Cortner’s cousin. “This summer has been so tough.”

The Oregon District shootings killed nine people as well as the shooter, Connor Betts. Gov. Mike DeWine, saying he was responding to demands that he ‘Do Something,’ introduced a slate of proposals this fall. Other bills and initiatives have also been introduced.

The bills under consideration would impact the wider number of gun deaths in different ways.

Some of the other gun victims this summer died by suicide in their homes. Two women died at the hands of their ex-boyfriends. One man died while police tried to subdue him after a traffic stop and foot chase.

In a recent speech, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley pointed out how the mass shooting garnered enormous interest while the others have become “routine” – though they all “represent a crisis of gun violence in our community.”

Gun violence kills about 1,500 people in Ohio each year, including 33 last year in Butler County and 12 in Warren County. There were 24 suicides and nine homicides where a gun was used, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office. There were 12 suicides by guns last year in Warren, according to the county health department.

At the Ohio Statehouse, state lawmakers are debating how to best curb gun violence and are considering two dozen bills — about half of which call for restricting access to firearms and half call for expanding gun rights. Several measures have the backing of DeWine. There is also ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation being considered that would remove the legal duty to retreat from danger in public places before using deadly force in self-defense.

Senate Bill 221, the governor’s STRONG Ohio plan, would expand the use of ‘pink slips’ to involuntarily hospitalize people deemed to be a danger, create a voluntary background system for private party gun sales, and expand penalties for gun crimes.

Survivors of gun violence say they are looking for something to change.

“We hurt so bad because we’re losing our black men, our black babies and it’s not being televised because it’s made out to be the norm. It’s not normal,” said Payne, who runs a non-profit focused on African-American girls.

Cortner’s nephew, 18-year-old Stefoun Deray Hunter, died Oct. 26, three days after being shot in the face on Windsor Avenue in Dayton, she said. Another cousin, Jonte’ Tinsley, 18, a college football player, was shot to death June 9 while at a Sweet 16 party in Harrison Twp.

“We got to get a fire ignited. We got to save our people,” said Payne, who sees opportunities to help struggling families as the answer. The community has “missing loops” because so many people have been jailed, killed or overdosed that generations of children don’t have stable adults in their lives, she said.

Six in 10 gun deaths in Ohio are suicides

About 24 hours before the Oregon District shooting, Gary Dean Huber, a 76-year-old man, shot himself in the chest at his Huber Heights home. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he had served three tours of duty in Vietnam. He left behind four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, his obituary said.

Huber’s stepdaughter Angelia Sanders of Colorado said Huber had been widowed and was going through health problems and had been depressed for several years. Even if the law allowed for removal of his guns, Sanders said she is convinced Huber would have found another way to kill himself.

“It’s not the gun, it’s the person,” she said. “If people don’t get help, they’ll find out another way to do it.”

Across the nation and the state, 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides. In Butler County, of the 322 gun-related deaths, 242, or 75 percent, have been suicides since 2007, according to the coroner’s office. Warren County has seen 132 gun-related deaths since 2007, and 124, or 94 percent, have been suicides, according to the health department.

Suicide by firearms are increasing. Since 2007, there have been 10,024 suicides by gun in Ohio. Last year, 974 Ohioans used guns to end their lives, up from 654 in 2007 — a 49 percent increase.

Butler County saw only three suicides with a gun in 2007, but since then, the number of gun-related suicides has ranged from 14 to 24 with a 12-year average of 20. During the same time, Warren has seen at least seven gun-related suicides every year, with a high of 13 so far this year and a low of seven in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

“There are a lot more people who are close to the edge than you realize. The old meme ‘check on your strong friends’ is a real thing,” said the Rev. Peter Matthews of McKinley United Methodist Church in Dayton.

Dayton Police Major Brian Johns said, “There is no doubt suicides are tragedies as well, especially when you think about a human being getting to the point where they take their own life like that. We deal with those cases as well.”

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.

Across the United States, 51 percent of all suicide deaths involved firearms, the most lethal method of completing a suicide. Ninety-two percent of firearms suicides are completed, compared with 78 percent for hanging and lower for other methods, according to the American Public Health Association.

States with “red flag laws” — allowing for a court order to seize weapons from people who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others — have seen an impact on suicide rates.

Related: Do red flag laws work? Here's what we found in Indiana

Researchers at the University of Indianapolis reported that Indiana’s red flag law led to a 7.5 percent decline in firearm suicides, relative to expected rates, and the study estimated that 383 firearm suicides were prevented in the 10 years after enactment of the law.

DeWine is not advocating for a red flag law in Ohio. Instead, he wants to expand the use of “pink slips” — a 72-hour hospitalization hold for mental health evaluations — to cover those suffering from substance use disorder and chronic alcoholism.

Related: Will expanding 'pink slips' curb gun violence?

Last year Dayton police responded to more than 2,300 mental-health calls, nearly double the number in 2011. Police requested pink slips on about 80 percent of them last year.

“We have said for years that we need to focus on mental health and enforce current law,” said Dean Rieck, Executive Director of Buckeye Firearms Association, in a written statement. “The problem with red flag or protection order laws is that they seek to take away firearms based on an unproven accusation that an individual poses a threat. That is unconstitutional, it invites abuse of power and infringement of rights, and frankly it just doesn’t work to make anyone safer.”

Guns are used in three-quarters of all domestic violence deaths in Ohio

Guns are also used in 75 percent of domestic violence deaths, according to a survey by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, and one-third of the time, the perpetrator dies by suicide. Shannon Isom, CEO of YWCA Dayton, said the presence of a gun in an abusive relationship makes it 500 times more likely that the woman will be killed.

Related: 81 people killed in Ohio in domestic violence cases last year

A month before the Oregon District shooting, 19-year-old Iuana Sneed died of a gunshot to the head in her boyfriend’s home in Trotwood. Forty-seven-year-old Christopher Daye pleaded guilty on charges in her death and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 17.

On July 23, 45-year-old Donna Brown headed to the Family Dollar store to buy plates for a family dinner. Her ex-boyfriend, Dennis Haggin, 62, pulled into the parking lot. Brown, who had gotten a protection order just days before, left the store and Haggin shot her in the head. He then turned the gun on himself.

Isom said gun violence is entrenched in abusive relationships.

“The week before and the week after the Oregon District tragedy each saw gun-related domestic violence incidents. So when YWCA joins in the call to ‘Do Something,’ we are committed to ensuring that communities are safe places for women and girls to thrive,” she said. “Gun violence is a major threat to their health and safety. Domestic violence is a pervasive, and not new, problem, yet it does not consistently get the press or the outrage.”

Staff writer Rick McCrabb contributed to this report.

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