Roughly two weeks after Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled the language of his gun control legislation, groups on both sides of the issue are ramping up their rhetoric. DeWine’s bill differs from the 17-point plan he released in the aftermath of the deadly Aug. 4 mass shooting in the Oregon District, and that’s sparking some advocates to recalibrate their opinions.
When DeWine took the stage to speak at a vigil in the Oregon District the night after the massacre, he was interrupted by chants of, “do something! Do something!”
A few days later, DeWine credited the crowd's chants with convincing him to take action to curb gun violence.
“Some of them chanted ‘do something,’” DeWine said at the time, “and they were absolutely right. We need to do something.”
He laid out a comprehensive 17-point proposal for gun control that included universal background checks and a "red flag" law that would allow courts to take firearms away from a person they deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
But neither of those provisions are in the language of DeWine’s bill, released earlier this month.
Read more about the bill at the Statehouse News Bureau.
The so-called STRONG Ohio bill doesn’t include a red flag law, and while it does include background checks on private firearm sales, the checks would be voluntary instead of mandatory.
Those rollbacks made some Second Amendment-rights advocates happy.
At a Miami Valley firing range called Sim-Trainer located a few miles south of the Oregon District, people line up and take aim.
The facility also offers a wide array of firearms-safety classes.
Owner Jeff Pedro, a retired Kettering police officer, says expanded background checks—voluntary or mandatory—wouldn’t have the impact some gun control advocates are hoping for.
“The initial knee-jerk reaction was the typical feel-good response," he says. "We have to do something. It will make me feel good to do something, even if it won’t have an effect. One of the things they talk about is expanded background checks, but here’s one thing I know from being a police officer of 29 years: criminals don’t go through background checks.”
Before DeWine released his bill, Pedro says he worried most about the prospect of a red flag law, which he says would enable courts to take guns away from innocent people involved in simple misunderstandings and what he calls, “he said, she said,” disagreements.
But he does support some of the provisions in DeWine’s bill.
Pedro says he’s in favor of increased penalties for straw gun buying, where someone purchases a gun for another person, often, someone who wouldn’t be able to pass a background check.
He also thinks the state should focus on enforcing existing laws and boosting mental-health services for schools to reach children, "so they can do early diagnostics on kids that are having emotional issues.”
The 24-year-old Oregon District shooter who killed nine people and injured roughly three dozen others, law enforcement investigators say, had a history of threatening behavior and expressing violent ideologies before the massacre.
Pedro says he isn’t against new gun-violence legislation, as long as it’s carefully worded to protect Second Amendment rights.
Meanwhile, at the 2nd Street Public Market in downtown Dayton, Maura Donahue is asking people to sign a petition calling on Ohio lawmakers to institute background checks on private gun sales.
Donahue has been working with two groups, Ohioans for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, since the mass shooting.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has come out in favor of both DeWine’s proposed legislation and the expanded background check petition Ohioans for Gun Safety is circulating.
Her own daughter was inside the Hole in the Wall bar when the shooting occurred outside.
“When she realized what was happening, the backdoor exit was really logjammed with people and she thought, ‘I can’t get out.’ So, she and about 15 other people laid on the floor in the bathroom in the Hole in the Wall huddled together in fear with their feet up against the door," she says. "The shots were so loud that they thought the shooter was shooting up the bar."
Donahue says she wishes the governor's plan went further.
In addition to stronger background checks, she says she’d like to see a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. She wants other Ohioans to push for those types of laws, too.
"My message for people today is to not wait until it gets personal because it just might," she says.
Donahue says she’s hoping efforts to prevent future mass shootings won’t end up in limbo like the handful of other bills already languishing in the Ohio legislature from before the Oregon District shooting.
Ohio gun bills have a history of not becoming law. Concerned citizens on both sides say they’re motivated to see something happen this time. They just can’t agree on exactly what that should be.