Guns, opioids dominate talk at local Washington fly-in

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said Wednesday an assault weapons ban would have little effect on mass shootings. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
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U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said Wednesday an assault weapons ban would have little effect on mass shootings. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

The Dayton Development Coalition’s 34th annual fly-in concluded on Wednesday.

The Dayton Development Coalition’s annual fly-in to Washington is typically a pretty locally-driven affair — lots of discussion of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Wright Brothers historical sites — but on Wednesday, the conversation briefly veered into a national social issue.

Asked whether he supports outlawing assault rifles, Rep. Warren Davidson, a Troy Republican, delved into a nearly seven-minute response where he argued that banning assault rifles would do very little to reduce a recent spate of mass shootings including a February shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17.

Instead, he argued, people were more likely to be killed by hand-to-hand combat, handguns or blunt objects than rifles. “I’m not in favor of banning them,” he said.

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Stepping up to the dais immediately afterward, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, responded quickly. “I just think Congress has not done its job on firearms,” he said, saying that while he believes in the Second Amendment, he thinks Congress is obligated to eliminate loopholes in the gun laws. There is a loophole that requires background checks to purchase guns at gun stores but not at gun shows, a loophole allowing those on the terrorist watch list to buy weapons and a loophole that allows people to modify guns to make them shoot automatically, Brown said.

He said he respects Davidson, but “the NRA pretty much runs this Congress. When it comes to gun safety, we should be passing common sense gun safety laws.”

Their exchange occurred on the final day of the Dayton Development Coalition’s 34th annual fly-in, a three-day event that allows coalition members to come into Washington, D.C., to talk to lawmakers about the community’s needs. With the state’s only active-duty military base, the Dayton VA Medical Center and the Dayton Aviation National Heritage Park, the Dayton region has a particularly acute reason to pay attention to federal issues.

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Multiple lawmakers talked about the opioid epidemic, saying that the epidemic has largely hobbled the available workforce, causing employers to struggle to find qualified workers who can pass a drug test.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, cited research indicating 47 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 55 who are not in the workforce report taking medication on a daily basis. “It means they aren’t even showing up for the drug test,” he said, adding, “Until we get this opioid thing under control, they are not going to be there. They’re literally not looking for work.”

Brown said he’s also focused on the workforce issues connected to the opioid epidemic, and said he’s pushing a bill with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., that would combine various grant programs at the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services to create a six-year pilot project to combine job training and addiction recovery services.

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Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he’s introduced a bill that would restore Medicaid coverage to treat drug addicts who are incarcerated as well as his goal of garnering more federal resources for newborns who are born addicted to opioids.

Turner, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, predicted that there would be no round of base closures this year, but “my guess is sometime around 2020, we’ll see pressure for a BRAC process and our community will be very well-poised for that.” He said Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s biggest challenge will be competing with other services, rather than just fellow Air Force bases; past rounds have largely pitted bases within service branches against one another.

Portman said he’s written a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to urge her to select the base for the F-35 product support integrator office, a project which he said could bring 400 jobs to the base.

“Wright-Patterson is the right place for it,” he said. “Really well-suited for the mission.”