Gun regulation is an issue has been a challenging one for both major party candidates in the US Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland. In the last installment of a three part series, the Statehouse News Bureau is breaking down the race issue-by-issue. Correspondent Karen Kasler examines the candidates’ somewhat complicated positions on guns.
At one point, both Rob Portman and Ted Strickland had A ratings from the National Rifle Association – in fact, Strickland said he once had the highest possible rating: “As a Congressman, I had an A and most of the time an A+ rating with the National Rifle Association.”
He made that comment on “All Sides with Ann Fisher” on WOSU in Columbus in March 2015 – after Strickland had announced he wanted to be the Democratic nominee to run against Portman this year. And it was more than two years after six adults and 20 children were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School – an event Strickland now says helped shape the views on gun laws he now holds. He talked about that in his third debate with Portman. “My position has changed or evolved over the last several years. People ask me why, and I say that I’ve got eyes and ears, I’ve got a head and a heart,” Strickland said. “And I see what’s happening in our country and in our communities. 33,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence each year.”
Strickland says he still believes in the Second Amendment, but that he supports comprehensive background checks, including for internet and gun show sales, and that he wants to ban people on a terrorism watch list or a no-fly list from buying guns. Strickland now no longer has the backing of the NRA, which has given him an F rating. Also turning away from him is the Buckeye Firearms Association, which like the NRA had endorsed Strickland when he ran for re-election as governor in 2010.
Portman has seized on Strickland’s changed attitude on guns – especially a comment Strickland made before the editorial board of the Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com in February: “My record is mixed and spotty, and I can be criticized for that.” That line leads off one of Portman’s ads against Strickland, and he quoted those words back to Strickland in that third debate. “I don’t know where he is on this issue. I will tell you where I am, which is I do support the Second Amendment. I also support tightening up background checks – in particular, to get mental health records into the background checks,” Portman said. “I also do support someone who is on the no-fly list not being able to get a gun.”
But that last statement of Portman’s has gotten him some criticism from his opponent. Last month Strickland put up an ad featuring Nathan, a retired Army veteran who was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He says in the ad that Portman is blocking common sense gun safety laws: “Sen. Portman said no to background checks on all purchases. He even voted to allow people on the terrorism watch list to buy guns.”
Factcheckers have said that’s both true and not true – Portman did vote against an amendment banning firearm purchases by people on a terrorism watch list, but he voted for a similar proposal that included a 72 hour period for a judge to determine if there’s a reason to deny the sale. Portman mentioned that in the third debate as well. “I also do support someone who is on the no-fly list not being able to get a gun. But we need to be sure people are properly on the no-fly list – the famous example is that Ted Kennedy was on the no-fly list,” Portman said. “And the legislation I supported got the most votes – it was a bipartisan bill – to be able to solve that problem.”
But Strickland stood behind his claim in that third debate, adding in the suggestion that Portman won’t support any bill without the NRA’s approval of it. “The world was watching. The country was watching. Sen. Portman voted no,” Strickland said. “He has sold his soul to the NRA. And that’s why they have spent nearly $2 million trying to defeat me in this Senate race, and I’m proud of their opposition.”
Indeed, the National Rifle Association was keenly interested in the US Senate race in Ohio for a while – it was the group’s most expensive race at one point, as it spent on ads against Strickland, its former ally. But since Portman opened up a double-digit lead on Strickland this summer, that spending has stalled.