6-months after Dayton shooting, lawmakers still at odds over gun bills

Shoppers stroll through the Dayton’s Oregon District Monday. It’s been six months since a gunman killed nine people there in a mass shooting. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Shoppers stroll through the Dayton’s Oregon District Monday. It’s been six months since a gunman killed nine people there in a mass shooting. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Six months after the mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, legislative leaders remain deeply divided over the best way to address gun violence across the state.

Minority Leaders Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, and Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, expressed disappointment that lawmakers have failed to fully embrace gun control bills while Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, stressed the importance of self-defense.

Shortly after the Dayton shooting on Aug. 4, Gov. Mike DeWine rolled out a 17-point plan to address gun violence and called on lawmakers to pass universal background checks and expressed support for a so-called red flag law. By October, DeWine’s plans were scaled back to a voluntary background check for private gun sales and expansion of 72-hour mental health holds on people who seem to be a danger to themselves or others.

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“What’s happened to that 17-point plan? Now we’re looking at a two-point plan? And what does that two-point plan do? Virtually nothing,” Yuko said. “We need strong background checks. We need to get the guns off the streets and out of the hands of those who don’t deserve them.”

Obhof, however, argued that legislators have taken action on bills to increase penalties for gun crimes and improve access to state psychiatric hospital beds. Other gun bills are being vetted, he said.

“I can’t guarantee one way or another that any of them will get any particular votes. That’s up to the members and whether we decide those are the right policies or not,” Obhof said.

DeWine asked lawmakers to read the details of his proposals.

“These are rational things to do. Again, I would ask members of the Legislature to look at this and read the bill, look at what it actually does. What you’ll find is it is very consistent with the Second Amendment,” DeWine said. “This bill will save lives and we need to get it passed in the General Assembly this year.”

Ohio political leaders answered journalists’ questions Tuesday at a forum sponsored by The Associated Press.

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Sykes said the Dayton shooting seems to be fading from lawmakers’ memory.

“We saw the chance from the people in Dayton to do something and the governor mentioned that he’d push for background checks and for red flag laws and we got a watered down version of that,” Sykes said, who added that she’s not hopeful there will be substantial action to curb gun violence.

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“Unfortunately, we’ve gone down the path we tend to go, which is to vilify those with mental illness and make them the scapegoat. That is unacceptable and that is unfair,” she said.

Householder, who lives in Perry County, noted that rural Ohioans can’t rely on prompt police response so they want firearms for self-protection.

“If the guy who is coming down my driveway, if he has got an AR-15, you know what I want? I want an AR-15. That’s the way it has to be because we protect ourselves,” Householder said.

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The speaker said “I’m of the belief that the biggest gun lobby that we have in the state of Ohio are the millions and millions of Ohioans who lawfully own firearms for sport and for protection.”

Illustrative of how far apart the legislative leaders are on gun issues, Sykes said she has never fired a gun in her life while Householder reported that he used a shotgun Sunday to shoot clay targets with family members.

Yuko and Obhof said they haven’t fired a gun in a long time; DeWine said he last fired a gun during his training class for a concealed carry weapons permit about eight years ago.