Ohio lawmaker stands by gun-carrying students comment despite critics

State Rep. Niraj Antani faced bipartisan criticism after arguing the Second Amendment includes the right of students age 18-plus to carry long guns within their high schools.

Antani, R-Miamisburg, on Friday said the Dayton Daily News accurately reported his position, first expressed by him on Twitter, but said he “did a poor job of communicating” his beliefs.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Ohio lawmaker: Allow students age 18-plus to carry guns in high school

“Yesterday, I learned a lesson,” Antani posted on Twitter. “A reporter asked me a question about (Second) Amendment issues. I told the reporter I believed that gun-free zones do not work, and that every law-abiding person who is of age has a right to carry to defend themselves. I am not advocating the arming of students.”

In a Twitter exchange Wednesday with a Democratic General Assembly candidate, Antani said, "Students deserve a chance to stand their ground and defend themselves." The comments came as thousands of local students walked out of class following the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school.

A scheduled forum about school safety featuring Antani has been postponed.

Several high-profile Republicans distanced themselves from Antani's comments.

Ohio Attorney General “Mike DeWine supoorts the Second Amendment and understands Rep. Antani’s comments supporting law-abiding gun owners,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, a spokesman for DeWine’s gubernatorial campaign.

“However, both state and federal law prohibit unlicensed individuals like students from carrying guns in high school buildings, and we believe that is the right policy.”

Antani has endorsed DeWine. A spokesman for GOP gubernatorial candidate Mary Taylor did not respond to an inquiry about her position on guns.

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The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush, prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing loaded or unsecured firearms at schools.

“There’s a federal law requiring that there be no weapons, not even within a certain distance of schools, and I think that’s appropriate,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in a Daily News interview.

Both of Antani’s GOP primary opponents disagreed with the incumbent’s position. “I definitely do not agree with this concept that we should allow high school students to carry,” said Marcus Rech.

“I remember myself when I was that age … there’s a lot of fights that break out and conflict, a lot of hormones. It’s not a good mix.”

Another GOP opponent, Sarah Clark, said she found the idea “incredibly dangerous.”

“I think that right now, we are at a critical point in defending the Second Amendment, and when lawmakers come out and make statements like this, it’s so damaging,” she said.

Republican Doug Barry, a Miami Twp. trustee and candidate for Montgomery County Commission, said he personally “would not feel comfortable with my kids carrying a weapon to school.”

“If you’re asking me if I’m comfortable arming high school-aged kids, the answer is I’m not, and that’s coming from the father of a high school-aged kid,” Barry said.

Dean Rieck, Buckeye Firearms Association executive director, said the organization has not advocated for allowing students to carry firearms in schools and does not plan to introduce any bills to that effect.

Antani on Thursday told the Daily News there’s a “cultural difference” between urban and rural communities’ safe use of guns.

“In rural America, there is a culture of carrying firearms safely,” Antani said. “In any urban area, such as Dayton Public, there is not. In Dayton, unfortunately, there is a lot of gang violence, and firearms are used improperly.”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said by phone Friday that Antani is “looking to be the next NRA puppet.”

“It is clear from his comment he doesn’t have a good understanding of the gun issue in both rural and urban communities, and it’s clear that he’s not being thoughtful about the conversations these young people are having,” Whaley said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich called Antani’s comments “sheer madness.”

“Sanity and safety demand that we not encourage more weapons in our schools and that we outlaw assault weapons,” Kucinich said. “This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. We must not wait for another incident.”

Dayton Public Schools Board of Education member Mohammed Al-Hamdani said he would welcome Antani to the schools.

"It's an open invitation; I would be more than happy to walk him through our buildings so he can come and see there is no gang violence happening at Dayton Public Schools,” Al-Hamdani said. “It's unfortunate that he would make such a comment."