State senators on Tuesday began debating multiple gun control bills that call for expanding background checks for firearms purchases, raising the legal purchase age to 21 for all firearms and establishing a legal means to remove guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Kettering Republican Peggy Lehner, a co-sponsor of the measures, opened her testimony by taking 29 seconds to read off the names of the nine victims killed in the Oregon District mass shooting on Aug. 4, saying that knowing a little about each person makes it harder for lawmakers to turn their backs.
“I can no longer stand on the sidelines of gun safety. I’ve been there too long,” Lehner said, offering no guarantee that the measures would stop gun violence. “But I do know this much: doing absolutely nothing is simply not an option.”
She urged her conservatives on the Senate Government Oversight & Reform Committee to look at gun control bills as “pro-life” legislation that is as important as protecting the unborn.
Hearings on the bills came while lawmakers await specifics from Gov. Mike DeWine on his 17-point plan to address gun violence in the wake of the Dayton mass shooting.
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DeWine has said he’ll advocate for expanded background checks and a “safety protection order” — also known as a red flag law — that allows for seizing guns from those who appear to be a danger. Lehner said once the governor’s package is introduced, she’ll likely back it.
Gun rights organizations generally oppose both expanded background checks and safety protection orders as ineffective and an infringement on constitutional rights.
Republican senators at Tuesday’s hearing expressed skepticism as well.
State Sen. Matt Huffman of Lima argued that removing firearms from someone deemed to be dangerous doesn’t take away other lethal weapons, such as baseball bats, knives or fists. State Sen. Bill Coley of West Chester argued that the focus should be in getting dangerous people mental health treatment, not seizing their weapons.
Supporters and opponents of gun restrictions are mobilizing to apply political pressure at the Ohio Statehouse.
The Ohio Mayors Alliance, co-founded by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, will hold a press conference Thursday with chiefs of police to urge action on gun reform. Dayton, Kettering, Middletown, Columbus, Cincinnati and four other cities are participating.
Faith-based and community groups supporting gun control are holding a rally, march and silent prayer in Columbus on Wednesday.
And the Ohio Gun Owners held a rally on Saturday in opposition to DeWine and his call for expanded background checks and a “safety protection order” law.
Public polling shows widespread support for both ideas. A survey by Quinnipiac University released last month shows 93 percent of Americans favor expanding background checks to be required for all gun sales, 80 percent support a ‘red flag’ law and 60 percent support a ban on assault weapons.
Ohioans for Gun Safety, a grassroots group, is now trying to gather 132,887 valid voter signatures to put a universal background check bill in front of lawmakers. If lawmakers fail to act on the measure, the group would have to collect another 132,887 signatures to then place the question on the statewide ballot.
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