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Ohio Governor Proposes New Gun Control Laws, Marking Shift From Past GOP Leadership

Originally published on August 6, 2019 7:07 pm

Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, is calling for a version of the "red flag" law, expanded background checks, and other gun control proposals in response to the mass shooting in Dayton over the weekend that left nine people dead. These proposals represent a dramatic shift in the way Ohio's state leadership has handled gun policies for most of the decade.

As DeWine rolled out his 17-point plan to reduce gun violence, he reflected on Sunday night's vigil for the Dayton shooting victims. During his address people started chanting "Do something," which eventually drowned out the rest of his remarks.

"I understand that anger, for it's impossible to make sense out of what is senseless," DeWine said during a news conference Tuesday morning. "Some chanted 'do something' and they were absolutely right."

No magic solution

DeWine says he is introducing a "safety protection order" that reflects what many other states call the red flag law. This allows a judge to confiscate firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. His plan would also require background checks for all gun purchases and transfers with some exemptions, strengthen penalties on crimes involving guns, and increase access to mental health treatment.

DeWine says there is no magic solution to stopping gun violence, "but I can tell you this, if we do these things, it will matter; if we do these things it will make us safer."

Values and pro-gun policies

Since 2011, Republicans have controlled the Ohio House, Ohio Senate and Ohio governor's office, with little to no interest in passing strong gun regulations. The exception is former Gov. John Kasich's late-term change of heart to pass gun regulations during his last year in office.

This has been met with great frustration by State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, and other Democrats who have spent years introducing bills that reflect what DeWine is calling for now.

"Republicans [need] to step up; they've got to do some self-evaluation of their values. You know people are dying, people are suffering from all of this," says Thomas.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, says she will no longer be timid in expressing her support for "common sense" regulation.

"To put a gun in the hands of someone who is mentally ill and has ill will towards other people is not protecting our constitutional rights — it's just plain foolish, it's stupid," says Lehner.

For years, lawmakers have passed pro-gun policies, such as expanding the ability to carry concealed weapons in day cares, college campuses and parts of airports. They've also pushed to allow people to carry concealed weapons without permits or training.

Now, Senate Republican spokesperson John Fortney says legislators want to take their time on DeWine's proposed regulations, despite mounting public pressure.

"The fact is, results count. You can't have an unconstitutional law or an ineffective law passed because it does nothing to protect the public. If it's more important to score political points just to pass a law and pat yourself on the back, you're dishonoring the dead," Fortney says.

Too far?

Chris Dorr, director of Ohio Gun Owners, is staunchly opposed to DeWine's version of the red flag law.

"He can call that pig what he wants to, he can put as much lipstick on it, but a safety protection order is still a red flag order. You're still not convicted of a crime," Dorr says.

While Dorr believes DeWine goes too far, there are gun control advocates who are pushing for even more, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The group Ohioans for Gun Safety is circulating a petition to put expanded background checks on the state ballot as early as November 2020. Voters could decide the issue if the Ohio Legislature doesn't act.

Copyright 2019 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is proposing new gun control measures, following the mass shooting Sunday in Dayton. DeWine is a Republican, and his move represents a big shift in the way the state's leaders have approached gun policy.

Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: When DeWine came to Dayton Sunday to memorialize the people killed that morning, he got a message from the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Do something.

MIKE DEWINE: We are here tonight...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Do something.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Do something.

CHOW: The chant eventually drowned out DeWine's remarks. This morning, DeWine said that moment was not lost on him, saying they were angry and he's angry, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEWINE: Some chanted, do something. And they were absolutely right.

CHOW: DeWine went on to roll out 17 different initiatives to reduce gun violence in Ohio. They include a so-called red flag law, which allows a judge to confiscate firearms from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. His plan would also expand background checks, strengthen penalties on crimes involving guns and increase access to mental health treatment. DeWine says there's no magic solution to stopping gun violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEWINE: But I can tell you this - if we do these things, it will matter. If we do these things, it will make us safer.

CHOW: Since 2011, Republicans have controlled the Ohio House, Senate and governor's office with little to no interest in passing strong gun regulations. This has been met with great frustration by state Senator Cecil Thomas and other Democrats who have spent years introducing bills that reflect what DeWine is now calling for.

CECIL THOMAS: The Republicans got to step up. They've got to do some self-evaluation of their values. You know, people are dying. People are suffering from all of this.

CHOW: Republican Senator Peggy Lehner of the Dayton area says she will no longer be timid in expressing her support for what she calls common-sense regulation.

PEGGY LEHNER: To put a gun in the hands of someone who is mentally ill and has ill will towards other people is not protecting our constitutional rights. It's just plain foolish. It's stupid.

CHOW: For years, lawmakers have passed pro-gun policies, such as expanding the ability to carry concealed weapons in day cares, college campuses and parts of airports. And they've pushed to allow people to carry concealed weapons without permits or training. Now, Senate Republican spokesperson John Fortney says legislators want to take their time on DeWine's proposed regulations, despite mounting public pressure.

JOHN FORTNEY: The fact is, results count. You can't have an unconstitutional law or an ineffective law passed because it does nothing to protect the public. If it's more important to score political points just to pass a law and pat yourself on the back, you're dishonoring the dead.

CHOW: Chris Dorr, with Ohio Gun Owners, is staunchly opposed to DeWine's red flag law, which the governor called a safety protection order.

CHRIS DORR: He can call that pig what he wants to. He can put as much lipstick on it, but a safety protection order is still a red flags order. You're still not convicted of a crime.

CHOW: While Dorr says DeWine goes too far, there are gun control advocates that are pushing for even more, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. There's a group circulating a petition to put expanded background checks on the state ballot as early as next November for voters to decide if the Ohio Legislature doesn't act.

For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.