On gun issues, Ohio’s governor candidates far apart

Throughout Ohio and across the country Wednesday, students locked arms in solidarity toward the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But there is little solidarity among the candidates running for Ohio governor about what to do about school shootings, or gun violence in general. Asked for their positions on issues ranging from banning gun stocks to stand your ground legislation, the candidates offered starkly contrasting answers.

The two candidates furthest apart are probably the Republican Mary Taylor and the Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

As she stood on the Ohio Statehouse steps this month at a rally among gun rights advocates, Taylor hoisted up a 12-gauge shotgun and challenged: “Come and take it.”

Campaigning on an unflinching, absolutist view of the 2nd Amendment, Taylor continuously paints her opponent in the GOP primary, Attorney Gen. Mike DeWine, as soft on gun rights.

"When tragic shootings occur in this country, like we saw recently in Florida, establishment politicians immediately take this knee-jerk reaction and start to restrict our gun rights instead of dealing with the root cause of the problem," Taylor told gun rights advocates at the rally.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kucinich wears his F rating from the National Rifle Association like a badge of honor and paints his opponent, Richard Cordray, as tool of the gun lobby.

“DeWine and Cordray have both taken some positions in the past that would place them outside the mainstream of their parties today,” said David Niven, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati. “Instead of discussing the issue, or shouting from the steps of the Statehouse about it, both would rather change the subject.”

Niven said Kucinich and Taylor have an incentive to talk about guns because their positions align with many people within their parties.

“It’s a perfect illustration of how fundamentally far apart the parties’ primary voters are from each other that Kucinich’s F and Taylor’s A from the NRA are both electoral assets within their parties,” he said.

This newspaper tracked down concrete answers from the Republicans and Democrats running for Ohio governor on where they stand on key gun issues, such as whether the state should adopt an extreme risk protection law, which allows family or police to seek a court order to take guns away from someone who appears to be a danger to themselves or others, or whether Ohio should pass a stand your ground law, which eliminates the legal duty to retreat from a threat in public places.

Nailing down answers wasn’t easy. Some campaigns responded to our questionnaire immediately while others did so after weeks of prodding and requests.

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Kucinich and Cordray appear to be miles apart on gun issues, while differences between DeWine and Taylor — at least on specific policy issues — are harder to detect.

Cordray opposes an assault weapons ban, supports universal background checks and a bump stock ban, but said he needs more information on other issues, such as an extreme risk protection law and stand your ground. Historically, though, he has been a big supporter of gun lobby.

In 2010, when campaigning for attorney general, Cordray said of gun rights: "These are rights that don't depend on putting them in a constitution. These are rights that we have as human beings. They're natural rights. They extend beyond any government, whatever form that takes. The Constitution merely reminds government to respect and honor these freedoms."

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Kucinich, on the other hand, is all in when it comes to strengthening gun laws.

Last month, Kucinich said at the City Club of Cleveland: "I will lead the way to a ban on assault weapons in Ohio, so our children can learn freely in classrooms, so our teachers are not under constant threat, so that we may all reclaim a safe space in our public places, the safe space where the comfort of security and peace of mind resides."

There is close to universal agreement on one issue — support for increasing safety training in schools — though Bill O’Neill, a Democrat, answered that he needs more information.

Most other issues revealed major differences. For example:

  • An assault weapon ban is opposed by DeWine, Taylor and Cordray, while Kucinich and Sen. Joe Schiavoni are in support. O'Neill favors restricting purchases to 21 and up and requiring annual registration and permitting. DeWine said such bans are unconstitutional.
  • DeWine and Taylor both oppose a bump stock ban and limits on magazine capacities, though DeWine said he believes federal regulations will address bump stocks.
  • Taylor opposes an extreme risk protection law and universal background checks. She supports a stand your ground law, expanding where CCW permitholders may carry weapons and allowing CCW permitholders to carry on school property.
  • DeWine supports stand your ground legislation, but did not answer a question about whether CCW permit holders should be able to carry on school property.

According to the NRA, which gave the newspaper access to the latest ratings on each of the candidates, Taylor and Cordray each had As, Schiavoni a B+, DeWine a C+ and Kucinich an F. O’Neill, who served on the Ohio Supreme Court until recently, does not have a rating.

The 2018 ratings, which will be based on public statements and positions as well as votes, have yet to be released, the NRA said.

University of Dayton political scientist Christopher Devine said gun issues are salient — at the moment — and could drive voter turnout in what is usually a low-turnout election.

“If voters feel like this is an important issue and they have a clear choice between candidates, then gun control really might affect voting behavior in this election,” Devine said. “If they don’t see it as a particularly important issue, or they see the candidates in their party as essentially indistinguishable on gun control, then this will have little effect on voting.”

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