Gov. Mike DeWine’s 17-point plan to curb gun violence is already being praised and panned by experts, lawmakers and activists on both sides of the gun control debate.
DeWine announced several proposals Tuesday, just two days after a gunman killed nine and injured more than 30 in a shooting outside Ned Peppers Bar in the Oregon District.
DeWine’s proposals included a wide range of ideas focused on improving access to mental health, helping people identify warning signs, improving background checks, increasing prison sentences and establishing a red flag-like law.
It’s inspiring to see a governor willing to take action on gun control, said Art Acevedo, Houston police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
“It was exciting to see a governor actually lead and choose the safety of his people over politics,” Acevedo said.”If you do all of those things you’re not going to stop gun violence but you’re going to reduce it greatly”
DeWine’s proposals are sure to get a mixed reaction in the state legislature.
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said its important for any proposed laws not to step on a person’s due process rights, while State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, said any approach to curbing gun violence needs to be comprehensive instead of targeting just one thing.
Despite debate among legislators, something needs to be done, said State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering.
“We’ve got to try something,” Lehner said. “Will it work? We don’t know and we won’t know until we try it.”
Red flag laws
Red flag laws, also known as extreme protection orders, allow police or close family members to get a court order to remove firearms from someone who appears to be a danger to themselves or others. The General Assembly has considered similar proposals in the past.
Depending on its details, DeWine’s red flag proposal may have support from both gun rights supporters and gun control advocates.
If DeWine’s red flag law doesn’t have too many hoops to jump through, it could prove to be effective as similar laws in other states have been, said Toby Hoover, founder of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. Around 18 states have some version of a red flag law in place already, according to the U.S. Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“They’re saving lives all over,” Hoover said. “It’s a really good idea as long as they’re doing it with the right intentions. You need to separate the guns from the person immediately.”
DeWine’s proposed red flag law would protect “due process,” he said, by requiring a judicial hearing to be held within three days of a person’s firearms temporarily being confiscated.
If a judge determines a person is a threat to himself or herself, the gun owner could be ordered to get mental health care before their firearms are returned to them.
The protection order could be extended for up to six months if necessary, DeWine said. The gun owner in question would also have the opportunity to apply to retrieve their firearms every three months, but would need to provide evidence that they no longer pose a threat, DeWine said.
The “second amendment community” was involved in discussions regarding what the governor would propose, DeWine said on Tuesday. The Buckeye Firearms Association will back the idea if an individual’s due process rights are protected, said Larry Moore, regional leader for the group.
“It does feel like he has gone to great lengths to protect our due process rights,” Moore said. “And, that is very critical.”
DeWine called for stronger background checks across Ohio.
He said checks should be performed for any gun purchase in the state, with the exception of gifts for a family member and other instances which he did not go into detail about Tuesday.
Expanded background checks are something gun control advocates have been pushing for years, Hoover said.
While background checks could make Ohio safer, they won’t have as wide of an impact unless they are also expanded at the federal level, Acevedo said.
“Those bills stay in limbo because the leadership in the (U.S.) senate won’t touch it,” Acevedo said.
Although improved background checks may have support among gun control activists, the Buckeye Firearms Association is “very concerned” about them, said Jim Irvine, president of the board of the group. Irvine argued that back ground checks won’t stop a criminal from getting a gun and therefore would not have prevented a shooting like the one in Dayton early Sunday morning.
“I think the background check idea is a reaction to other things and not results oriented,” Irvine said. “We want something that works.”
DeWine recommended the General Assembly increase prison sentences for people who illegally buy, sell or own a firearm they know was unlawfully obtained.
Increasing penalties is crucial to preventing people from buying or selling a firearm illegally, Acevedo said.
“If the consequences are severe enough, they will have a deterrent effect,” Acevedo said. “They have to be consequences with teeth in them.”
Under DeWine’s proposal, having a weapon while under a disability would become a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison on a first offense while subsequent offenses would be a first-degree felony punishable by three to 11 years in prison.
Committing a felony while possessing of a firearm would be punishable by a one to three-year prison sentence under DeWine’s proposal. DeWine asked the legislature to pass a law that would require a three to five year prison sentence for those who brandish a gun while committing a felony.
DeWine called on the Ohio House and Senate to increase the penalty for “straw purchases” to a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison.
A person who possesses a gun they know was illegally obtained would face a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison. DeWine also asked the General Assembly to boost the penalty for improperly providing a firearm to a minor to a third-degree felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
Irvine said he is somewhat skeptical of increasing penalties. But, he acknowledged that doing so may serve as a good deterrent, so long as it has no unintended consequences.
“That one’s going to require a lot of research,” Irvine said. “I think we can get there but it’s got to get done right.”
Hardening soft targets
The new state budget provides $9 million to “harden” soft targets, DeWine said Tuesday.
Soft targets include places like the Oregon District, houses of worship, schools, workplaces and more.
Increasing security can be a good thing but it doesn’t necessarily get to the heart of the issue, Hoover said. If the state moves forward with loosening some gun laws, such as a bill in the Statehouse that would eliminate the need for concealed carry permits, then having more security personnel won’t matter.
“It’s sort of a good idea but a bad idea,” Hoover said. “Let everyone carry guns wherever they want to carry them but we’ll have security. It’s contradictory and it doesn’t make any sense.”
To Irvine, the issue of having armed employees or security should be left up to the business, school or whatever entity is considering it. Irvine’s group, the Buckeye Firearms Association has performed some training for organizations on firearms and active shooter situations.
Though security can be helpful, it’s “not easy to just put up a layer of protection” to deal with violence, Irvine said.
“Obviously we don’t want to turn our schools into a prison-like setting and we don’t want to turn our stores and restaurants into that either,” he said.
Mental health care
DeWine’s suggestions regarding mental health, including increasing inpatient psychiatric care, “wrap-around services,” early intervention training, online access to mental health services for students, training on risk factor identification, and more have all received support from mental health professionals.
More investments in mental health services are necessary, but they don’t always play a major role in America’s gun violence issue, said Aaron Kivisto, a psychologist at the University of Indianapolis who studies gun violence prevention.
While more inpatient care and the rest of DeWine’s proposals are important areas to look at, Kivisto said it might not have the effect lawmakers would like for it to have.
“Certainly it’s needed,” Kivisto said. “Would we expect it to have a meaningful effect on gun violence? No.”
Data suggests that those with mental illness account for a small minority of violence in our society, Kivisto said.
Ann Stevens, the public information coordinator for Montgomery County Addiction and Mental Health Services, said that the two issues need to be separated completely, and found it frustrating for mental health proposals to be lumped in with gun violence proposals.
“Having a mental health condition does not mean that you are likely to be violent,” Stevens said.
Lori Criss, the director of Ohio Mental Health Addiction Services, has been working closely with DeWine with these proposals since January. The proposals, she said, will help people access immediate and long term mental health care and prepare children to deal with life’s stresses.
When asked if these proposals would help curb gun violence, Criss said: “I agree with the governor’s statements yesterday.”
“There are multiple factors relating to that question and it’s difficult to say there’s any one solution,” she said. “I do think it’s safe to say that what was proposed yesterday…will have a positive impact on the lives of Ohioans.”
Reporter Avery Kreemer contributed to this story.
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