Ohio Governor Urges State to Seize 'Window of Opportunity' on Gun Laws

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, left, speaks alongside Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, right, during a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, left, speaks alongside Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, right, during a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. John Minchillo/AP Photo

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Two days after a mass shooting in Dayton, Gov. Mike DeWine called for the state legislature to pass a “red flag” law, toughen background checks, and improve access to the state’s mental health system.

Faced with calls to “do something” in the wake of a mass shooting that killed 9 people, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced a series of proposals he said are aimed at strengthening the state’s mental health system and reducing firearms deaths.

Chief among the Republican governor’s proposals, he will ask the Ohio General Assembly to approve a “red flag” law that would allow courts to order the removal of firearms from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. DeWine also pushed for background checks on all gun sales made in the state, with an exception for gifts between family members.

“They were absolutely right. We must do something. And that is exactly what we are going to do,” DeWine said at a news conference.

Lawmakers in Ohio and Texas are in the spotlight after two mass shootings over the weekend collectively killed 31 people and injured dozens more. Republican lawmakers in Ohio haven’t taken up a number of gun control proposals offered so far this year, most introduced by Democrats. 

While Democrats in the state assembly expressed support for the governor’s proposals, Republican leadership refrained from giving any endorsements. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was waiting to review specific details of the proposals, a spokeswoman said. 

On Tuesday, DeWine’s proposals were greeted with cautious optimism by gun control activists, who said similar initiatives have stalled out in the Republican-controlled legislature.

“I hope there are enough people who have been moved by what happened in the last weekend that even though they have not considered it before, will now do something,” said Toby Hoover, founder of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. “They just wouldn’t touch this stuff. So, this could be an awakening.”

The Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also praised DeWine’s initiatives and said it intends to work with legislators to enact them.

“Today was an important step forward, and now it’s the legislature’s turn,” said Susie Lane, a volunteer leader with the Ohio chapter, which is affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety. “We’ll be doing all we can to show lawmakers the overwhelming support across Ohio’s political spectrum for these sensible, life-saving policies.”

Ohio’s governor has been a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. The first bill he signed into law after taking office this year was an emergency fix to botched gun-related legislation which he called “a reaffirmation of the Second Amendment.”

While members of the Buckeye Firearms Association were present at Tuesday’s event, Executive Director Dean Rieck said the gun rights group would need to review the language of any legislation before coming out for or against it. Rieck said the association would oppose any “red flag” bills that do not offer adequate due process protections. The group is opposed to an expansion of background checks to all private firearms sales between individuals, he said. 

“It will target the wrong people,” he said, hypothesizing that individuals looking to obtain guns for criminal means wouldn’t bother going through a background check in the first place.

The shooting in Dayton occurred early Sunday morning, when a gunman opened fire in a popular nightclub district, killing 9 people and injuring 14 others with gunfire within 30 seconds before he was shot and killed by responding police officers.  

Dayton police have said there was nothing in the 24-year-old man’s background that would have prevented him from buying the firearm used in the shooting. At Tuesday’s announcement, DeWine said no one piece of legislation would prevent gun violence like the Dayton shooting. He said his wide-ranging proposals were meant to address numerous factors that could more broadly reduce gun deaths of all sorts.

“If we, after a tragedy, only confine ourselves to doing those things that would have prevented this tragedy we are missing a real opportunity,” DeWine said.

Under DeWine’s “red flag” proposal, Ohio courts could issue “safety protection orders” that require individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others to temporarily turn over their firearms. The proposal includes due process rights that would afford the individual to appear in court to contest any protection order within three days and again after 14 days to determine if the order should be extended. 

Other gun-related proposals DeWine laid out Tuesday include harsher penalties for felons found in possession of firearms and straw purchasers who buy guns for people not allowed to own them.

Authorities are still investigating to determine the gunman’s motive in the attack, which also killed his younger sister. The FBI said Tuesday that the gunman had expressed violent ideologies.

Acknowledging the Dayton shooter exhibited “anti-social behaviors” in high school that should have been a warning sign to authorities, DeWine also sought to draw attention to the need for mental health resources in the state.

He committed to providing students who have suffered trauma with better access to behavioral health professionals in schools and called for early intervention to help identify young people suffering from mental health illness.

He will also ask the Ohio General Assembly to establish a community-based mental health program that could clear non-violent patients out of the state’s psychiatric hospitals to make bed-space available to others who do require confinement. DeWine said the state’s psychiatric hospitals are now predominantly used by patients who are committed while awaiting trial.

“This is a window of opportunity, let’s not mess it up,” DeWine said.

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Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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