The one-year anniversary of the Oregon District mass shooting will likely pass without state lawmakers taking action on gun reforms pushed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, whose attention is now focused on the pandemic and protests.
Instead, the Ohio House adopted a pro-gun rights measure that removes the penalty if concealed carry weapon permit-holders stopped by police fail to tell the officer that they’re carrying a weapon. The House voted 58-32 in favor of the bill on June 11, delivering an incremental win to gun rights advocates as the bill still has to go to the Senate.
More than two dozen bills pending in the Ohio General Assembly seek to loosen or tighten gun regulations. But none of them are likely to see any action before the Aug. 4 anniversary of the Dayton shooting since House members left Columbus for summer break and the Ohio Senate has just two session days scheduled in July.
The night after the mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, Ohioans shouted “Do Something” to DeWine. Days later, he called for rolling out a 17-point plan for changing gun laws and increasing access to mental health services.
In October, details emerged of DeWine’s plan. Missing from the package was a “red flag law” and a universal gun purchase background check. Earlier, DeWine had said he had been working on a red flag law and days after the Aug. 4 shooting in Dayton, DeWine said, “I’m asking the General Assembly to pass a law that requires background checks for all firearms sales in the state of Ohio, with the exception of gifts between family members and certain other limited uses.”
Instead, it calls for a system to let people voluntarily run a background check before they sell firearms to someone in a private party sale and a mandate for more timely, complete information being sent to existing background databases.
And rather than a red flag law — which allows family or police to seek a court order to seize weapons from someone who is a danger to themselves or others — DeWine’s plan calls for expanding an existing system for holding people for up to 72 hours for mental health issues.
DeWine’s STRONG Ohio plan, which is in Senate Bill 221, hasn’t had a hearing in the Statehouse since December.
“While the coronavirus has sidelined a lot of different things, that included, we’re going to continue to make sure that we do things that will in fact save lives. So, this will be a continuing discussion with members of the Legislature,” DeWine said in response to a query from the Dayton Daily News.
Toby Hoover of Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence said her hopes for gun reforms have ebbed and flowed — higher after the Dayton shooting, lower earlier this year as work on gun restriction bills stalled and higher now that protesters are more politically engaged.
“They are more aware now than ever about what is happening and the injustice of it,” she said.
But she added the chances of SB221 passing before the legislative session ends Dec. 31 are “pretty slim.”
Rob Sexton, lobbyist for Buckeye Firearms Association, said: “We’re obviously grateful (lawmakers) have not passed unnecessary gun restrictions on gun owners this year in the aftermath of the Dayton shooting. We’d ask that there be a greater examination of enforcing existing laws.”
Sexton said the pandemic and protests have highlighted the need for Ohioans to protect themselves if and when police are unavailable. The firearms association strongly favors passing measures that would allow adults to carry concealed weapons without permits or mandated training and that would remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self defense in public places, also known as “Stand Your Ground.”
Sexton noted that both ideas have been debated extensively in the General Assembly over several years.
“They have the ability to deal with either issue quickly, if they choose,” Sexton said.
Dennis Willard of Ohioans for Gun Safety said the “extreme” Legislature is more interested in expanding gun rights than adopting reforms. His group is collecting signatures to put a universal background check bill before lawmakers in January and if they don’t act on it, try to put it on the statewide ballot in November 2021.
“We believe it takes a grassroots effort to put it before the voters to make a change because there has not been a single indication that they’re serious about addressing gun violence. Every single legislator can find Dayton on a map. And if gun violence and murder hits this closes to home and it doesn’t change their mind, then what will? I really don’t know the answer to that question,” Willard said.
The two-year legislative session ends in December and any bills not passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the governor by then die. Typically, lawmakers pass a flurry of bills in the “lame duck” period between the November election and then end of the two-year session.
Evan English of Olde English Outfitters, a Tipp City gun store, said he thinks state leaders should keep the gun debate going, but he believes it’ll be a “monumental task” to find solutions that go beyond laws already on the books, are effective and don’t encumber citizen rights.
English said a “minuscule” percentage of legal gun buyers use the weapons for illegal acts.
“Show me the real-life solutions that don’t infringe on the other 99% and I’d love to discuss,” he said.
While the end of the session nears, lawmakers continue to float more gun legislation.
This spring, Democrats introduced three more gun bills: increase training requirements for school employees authorized to carry firearms on campuses; start a pilot project in Cleveland for youths at high risk of gun violence; and prohibit possession or manufacture of magazines with 100 or more rounds.
Also this spring, state Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, introduced a bill to reduce the training requirements for school employees authorized to carry firearms on campuses.
State Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, introduced a bill this spring that would ban 100-round magazines and described it as a way to start a conversation on gun policy.
“The tension over the right and left on gun issues is so high that it’s a trust issue,” he said. “As a group, we need to continue to push and push and push and not wait for the next shooting to engage.”
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