The night after the mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, Daytonians shouted “Do Something” to Gov. Mike DeWine and a few days later he answered the call rolling out a 17-point plan for changing gun laws and bolstering access to mental health services.
That was the easy part.
Now the governor must now convince pro-Second Amendment conservatives who control the Ohio General Assembly to support his plan, which includes expanding access to state psychiatric hospital beds, operating a school safety tip line (844-723-7764) and increasing penalties for gun crimes.
“I have an obligation to do this. This is something I want to do. We’re focused on this. It’s the right thing to do. These are all things that I believe we can do,” DeWine said. “Look, you run for governor because you want to be able to make things happen, change things.”
The hardest sell will be getting legislative leaders to say yes to universal background checks and a ‘Red Flag Law,’ which allows police or family members to seek a court order to remove firearms from those who appear to be a danger to themselves or others. ‘Red Flag’ is such a toxic term among pro-gun groups that the DeWine team insists on calling a ‘Safety Protection Order.’
Detailed legislative language on the two proposals is in the works.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, and House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, both of whom have A-plus ratings from the National Rifle Association, have expressed skepticism about expanded background checks and red flag laws — gun restrictions that are supported by a majority of Americans, according to polls.
“Hostile leadership in the House and Senate is the single biggest hurdle Gov. DeWine faces in pursuing a red flag law or universal background checks. From the outset of their political careers, Speaker Householder and Senate President Obhof were raised to never question the wishes of gun enthusiasts,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven. “As leaders, they well understand that if these ideas come up for debate they might not be able to control the outcome. But they have the power to prevent them from ever coming up for debate.”
Householder campaigned on gun rights. In a 30-second TV campaign ad, Householder wore full camouflage, bragged that he had the highest NRA rating in state history, called his opponents ‘anti-Trump gun grabbers’ and shot a television set.
Other Ohio House lawmakers also view the 2nd Amendment as sacrosanct. State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said he believes law-abiding 18-year-olds should be permitted to carry guns to high school. And state Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, said in a Facebook post that blame for the Dayton shootings should be placed on the breakdown of the traditional family, gay marriage, violent video games, professional athletes who protest the American flag, recreational marijuana and “snowflakes, who can’t accept a duly-elected President.”
Obhof said last week that he wouldn’t bring a gun bill to the floor until it has support from most of the 24 Republican state senators. Ensuring due process rights for gun owners is key, he said.
“Again, protecting your right to counsel, protecting your right to confront your accuser, making sure that things aren’t happening in ex parte hearings where you haven’t had a chance to defend yourself. Those are a big deal, not just to me but to most of the members and I’d say to many of the members on both sides of the aisle,” Obhof said.
SPECIAL PROGRAM: Mass Shootings: Solutions for a Safer Community
WHIO-TV’s Jim Otte is hosting a discussion with Gov. Mike DeWine, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and others about solutions to stop mass shootings. You can watch and listen live and join in the discussion.
Watch live: You can stream the forum starting at 7:30 p.m. on DaytonDailyNews.com and WHIO.com
Listen live and call in: The forum will air live on 1290 and 95.7 WHIO. After the forum, Miami Valley’s Morning News host Larry Hansgen will take your calls.
On TV: Watch the forum on WHIO-TV Channel 7 on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 12:30 p.m.
Will the Dayton shooting be a tipping point?
Connor Betts, 24, used an adapted semi-automatic weapon to murder nine people, including his sister, injure 27 others and traumatize the community. Police officers on patrol in the Oregon District are credited with stopping Betts from killing and injuring more.
The victims were Monica Brickhouse, 39; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Derrick Fudge, 57; Thomas McNichols, 25; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saheed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; and Beatrice Warren Curtis, 36; and Megan Betts, 22.
Long-time advocates for gun restrictions hope that the mass shooting on Aug. 4 will be a tipping point in Ohio’s gun politics.
Toby Hoover, who founded Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence in 1997, said she sees the tide shifting in favor addressing gun violence and the Dayton mass shooting puts the issue in Ohio’s own yard.
“I keep telling everybody that we all own the problem. We can’t keep thinking about this happening go other people in other places. We own the problem of gun violence,” Hoover said.
Previous mass shootings targeted: High school and college students in Ohio and other states. Country music fans in Las Vegas. Partygoers in Orlando. Religious worshippers in Pittsburgh, Charleston, S.C., Sutherland Springs, Tex. Members of Congress at softball practice in Virginia. First graders and teachers in Newtown, Conn.
“Everybody is connected to those communities. In America today, you know someone who lives in a community impacted by a mass shooting,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
The ubiquity of mass shootings, the rise in suicide rates and the constant of violent crime are problems all American communities face, she said. Whaley said she believes the Dayton shooting will be a tipping point on gun politics in Ohio and that DeWine is a results-oriented governor.
“DeWine is putting a lot of time into this personally,” said Whaley, who has met several times with DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on gun violence. “He’s about getting something through.”
DeWine is taking a practical approach, pushing for changes with broad public support, avoiding more controversial restrictions such as a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and pitching changes he believes have a realistic chance of getting through the Legislature.
He is reaching out to ministers, mayors, county prosecutors, gun groups and others to explain his proposals and ask for their support.
“It continues to be a work in progress. I think you’re beginning to see, though, a broad cross section of people in the state of Ohio who support our package. Some people don’t believe it goes far enough, some people have other opinions,” DeWine said.
Will gun-rights groups support DeWine’s plan?
Husted, a gun rights advocate, said he has been in regular contact with leaders of the Buckeye Firearms Association, National Rifle Association and Ohio Gun Collectors Association who regularly say enforcing existing laws is important, before passing more restrictions.
“It’s very important to building that coalition that you can prove to people that you actually are doing a good job with the laws that are currently on the books,” Husted said.
“We are dedicated to making sure constitutional rights are protected. We are dedicated to making sure the 2nd Amendment is protected and that there is due process at absolutely every stage with regards to personal protection,” DeWine said.
Last week, DeWine and Husted outlined plans to improve the system used to upload data to law enforcement and gun purchase background check databases. Civil protection orders, outstanding arrest warrants and felony conviction data is missing from the background check database because it isn’t being uploaded in a timely manner from local jurisdictions in Ohio.
While some gun groups support plugging holes in the existing system, they oppose expanding background checks to apply to private party gun sales and they oppose red flag laws.
Jim Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association said “We oppose universal background checks. It doesn’t work. It won’t save lives” and said the focus should be delivering mental health treatment to troubled people, not seizing property. “It is not right for the government to seize people’s property unless there is due process,” he said.
Chris Dorr of Ohio Gun Owners takes an even harder line against gun restrictions, warning in a Facebook video that “political bodies” would be all over the ground.
“At some point, when you come across the target field, we gun owners will pull the trigger and leave the corpse for the buzzards. That’s our version of negotiation with these people,” Dorr said in the video. He said later that he was speaking metaphorically and it was protected free speech.
Ohio voters may decide on background checks in 2020
National polls show nine in 10 Americans favor universal background checks, including on private gun sales, and 70 percent to 77 percent favor red flag laws.
Ohioans for Gun Safety is collecting signatures now to put a background check law on the statewide ballot in November 2020. Spokesman Dennis Willard said Ohioans are clamoring to sign the petition.
Will anything change?
It’s too soon to tell if the latest mass shootings, including in Dayton, will lead to change. Previous upheavals after high-profile, gruesome shootings have not resulted in sweeping reforms to gun policies.
After 17 died at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, more than 1 million people took to the streets in what is now considered the largest youth-led protest since the Vietnam War. Chants of “Never Again” rang out in Washington, D.C. and at hundreds of sister marches across the nation, including Dayton.
Former Ohio governor John Kasich did a 180-degree pivot on gun restrictions after the Parkland shooting and championed a slate of changes through the remainder of his time in office. Ohio legislators largely ignored Kasich’s gun control agenda.
Now the shouts are “Do Something” and there is a new governor championing change.
Husted said the DeWine administration hallmark is bringing people together, listening to their concerns and building a solution. “Because there is a level of trust that is being built between all of the voices in this conversation, we have a better chance than we’ve had in the past,” he said.
DeWine is well-liked by lawmakers and has been holding regular small-group breakfast meetings with legislators from both parties. State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said in DeWine’s first four months in office, she met with the governor three times, including at one of the breakfasts. “That’s three more visits than I had with John Kasich in eight years,” she said.
“One was a governor who wanted headlines. The other wants results,” said Irvine of Kasich and DeWine.
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