The Ohio Statehouse is ground zero for gun laws, which have become a major issue in the 2020 elections for voters and legislative candidates — especially in the wake of the Aug. 4 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District that killed nine people and led to shouts of “Do Something” at a vigil.
The Journal-News polled legislative candidates on where they stand on key gun issues and examined how some of their controversial statements on guns are coming into play in hotly contested races.
Hours after the mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, state Rep. Candice Keller said in a Facebook posting that the deadly shooting should be blamed on the breakdown of the traditional family, gay marriage, violent video games, recreational marijuana and “snowflakes, who can’t accept a duly-elected President.”
The provocative statement led to national headlines and a call from the Ohio GOP chairwoman for Keller’s resignation from office. Keller did not step down and his now running for the Ohio Senate in a three-way primary race.
More than two dozen bills addressing firearms are pending now — from criminal background checks and training for carrying concealed weapons regulations to when a gun could be seized. We asked each candidate their views on the same gun issues, including “red flag” and “stand your ground” laws.
Red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, allow police or family members to seek a court order to remove weapons from someone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Stand your ground laws people to use deadly force in public places in self-defense and would remove Ohio’s current duty to retreat from danger.
Gov. Mike DeWine wants lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 221, which would expand the use of “pink slips” to involuntarily hospitalize people with mental health disorders who also are deemed to be a danger, create a voluntary background system for private party gun sales, and expand penalties for gun crimes.
Gun violence killed 1,502 people in Ohio last year, including 44 in Butler County, according to state data. The majority of these deaths are suicides.
Last week, Ohioans began casting early ballots for party nominations in all 99 state House seats and half of the 33 state Senate seats, including in several hotly contested primaries for local legislative districts. Election Day is March 17.
Here’s what the candidates in contested local races told us about their stances on gun legislation.
READ MORE: Dayton mayor takes aim at gun reforms
There is a three-way GOP primary race for the district that represents most of Butler County. The primary winner will go up against Democrat Kathy Wyenandt in November.
Candice Keller, a state representative from Middletown, declined to answer questions, saying in an email: “House Communications has advised that we ignore this questionnaire. Thanks so much.” A spokeswoman for the House GOP caucus said she told Keller she couldn’t give advice on campaign-related matters.
Keller holds an A rating from the Buckeye Firearms Association but did not get the group’s endorsement. She is a co-sponsor on Ohio’s stand your ground bill.
George Lang, a state representative from West Chester and a National Rifle Association member, won the Buckeye Firearms Association endorsement. He is president of Second Call Defense, which sells liability insurance packages to gun owners.
Lang favors stand your ground and removing training and background checks for carrying a concealed weapons permits. He opposes bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as universal background checks and red flag laws.
Lang also opposes Gov. Mike DeWine’s Strong Ohio bill, which would implement a voluntary background check for private party sales and expand the use of 72-hour mental health holds for people experiencing chronic drug and alcohol addiction problems.
Lee Wong, a West Chester Twp. trustee known for campaigning door to door on a Segway, was not rated by the Buckeye Firearms Association. An NRA member, Wong is largely in line with Lang: He opposes bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, red flag laws and DeWine’s Strong Ohio bill. He supports stand your ground but is open to more discussion about whether Ohio should eliminate training and background checks for those seeking CCW permits.
The district, now represented by Lang, covers southeast Butler County. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Chuck Horn in November.
Jennifer Gross, a nurse and Air Force veteran, and Mark Welch, a West Chester Twp. trustee and hair salon co-owner, did not respond.
Both candidates have A ratings from the Buckeye Firearms Association but the organization did not endorse a candidate.
The district, now represented by Keller, covers parts of Butler County. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Michelle Novak in November.
Thomas Hall, a Madison Twp. trustee and an NRA member, favors stand your ground laws and universal background checks. He is against eliminating training and background checks for those seeking to carry concealed weapons. He also opposes bans on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines and DeWine’s Strong Ohio plan.
Brett Guido, a mortgage lender and Monroe Local School Board member, said in an email: “I’m not interested in participating in the survey, but I will tell you that I do support the Second Amendment. I do not feel that guns are the problem. I do support much needed mental health treatment, but I do not see this tied to gun ownership.”
Diane Mullins, who works for Calvary Christian Center, did not respond.
The Buckeye Firearms Association gave Hall an A rating, Guido a B rating and Mullins no rating. It did not endorse a candidate in the race.
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