Guns remain a talking point with Ohio lawmakers

Presented with a list of questions about whether and how their stance on gun control has changed in the wake of the unthinkable tragedy of 20 dead first-graders, area lawmakers focused instead on sympathy for the victims.

“Our prayers go out to the Newtown community and the families and friends affected by this terrible tragedy,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “As a parent, my heart aches for the moms and dads who lost an innocent child to this senseless violence.”

“The shooting this past Friday was a senseless tragedy, and our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families,” said Tom Crosson, spokesman for Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville.

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said passing more restrictions on “law-abiding citizens” will not deter shootings like this one.

“As the details of this senseless act emerge, it is clear that criminals will always find ways to acquire weapons and use them to commit acts of violence,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Congress should not only renew the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, but also focus more attention on the roots of violence.

“As a father, I cannot fathom the grief that the Sandy Hook Community is facing,” Brown said. “But I do know that none of us is powerless. It’s past time that we start a sensible dialogue about gun safety in our communities. “

Ohio lawmakers in recent years have increasingly veered toward less restrictive ownership of guns. In 2011, virtually every Ohio Republican U.S. House member co-sponsored a bill to extend federal protection of state right-to-carry licenses and permits across the country. The bill, which passed the House 272-154, was also co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, a Democrat.

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, was among those who opposed the assault weapons ban in 1994, while then-U.S. Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, voted in favor — an indication of the bipartisan nature of some gun bills. Portman, then in the House, and current Speaker John Boehner. R-West Chester Twp., both voted against the ban.

Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said she hoped the shootings cause lawmakers to renew the ban on assault weapons, increase background checks for those who purchase weapons and ban large ammunition clips.

“I’m hoping that people don’t say, ‘well, gee, here’s an easy answer, because there aren’t any easy answers,” she said. “The real problem is how this country looks at guns.”

Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said preventing such mass killings will have to be comprehensive, including better examining mental health and teaching victims to fight back.

“Arming teachers is something we need to look at,” he said, arguing that children deserve the same protections given the president, the speaker of the House and the governor. “Our kids are important enough, we can’t afford to lose them,” he said.

While gun rights issues remain something of a flash point, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appear to be endorsing increasing support for the mentally ill.

Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp., said that a common thread in these incidents has been that “a disenchanted, bright, loner with mental health issues finds a way to damage people’s lives with some form of violence.

“It’s certainly the time to reignite the discussion about the role the federal government has in supporting a strong mental health treatment system, and working to ensure our communities and our children are safe,” he said.

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