Republican Gov. John Kasich says it’s time to reconsider a ban on assault weapons — a dramatic change of heart that raises the question: Will Kasich use the bully pulpit to champion changes to gun laws in Ohio?
In October, following the massacre that killed 58 people and injured more than 800 in Las Vegas, Kasich said he supports banning bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire continuously, and he advocated for pulling both sides of the gun debate together. But Kasich has not publicly weighed in on two bills pending in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate that would ban bump stocks.
Kasich’s presidential campaign website on Sunday — just days after 17 were killed at a Florida High School — removed a statement that bragged that the governor “has signed every pro-2nd amendment bill that has crossed his desk to defend this basic, constitutional right.”
Now in its place is a statement that Kasich sees a need for “reasonable reforms to prevent future massacres — including the potential of expanding background checks on gun sales and limiting the ability to sell weapons that have often been used in mass killings.”
Kasich said he appointed a panel to make recommendations on gun safety, though he hasn’t said who is on the committee. “If they don’t produce anything, I’ll put my own stuff out,” Kasich said on CNN Sunday.
Related: Kasich rallies gun owners in 2009
Gun bills in Ohio
Currently in the Ohio General Assembly, there are eight pending bills that call for gun restrictions and 14 that call for expansion of gun rights.
As a member of Congress, Kasich voted in favor of the 1994 ban on assault weapons — a move that earned him an F rating from the National Rifle Association. In 2009 he told the Buckeye Firearms Association: “I thought it might do good. I was wrong. It didn’t have any impact. I’ve been voting with the NRA and gun owners about 95 percent of the time and I’ve agreed with the NRA at times more than I’ve agreed with my wife.”
In Kasich’s 2010 run for governor, the NRA backed his opponent, Democrat Ted Strickland.
But over the past seven years as governor, Kasich has signed into law bills that reduced the training hours required to get a concealed carry weapons permit, expanded the places CCW holders may carry to include bars, restaurants, day care centers, and college campuses if trustees approve. He also signed a bill that allows hunters to use noise suppressors and another measure that keeps who has CCW permits a secret.
In his 2014 re-election bid, Kasich had the backing of the NRA.
University of Dayton political scientist Christopher Devine said Kasich’s position shift “appears to be politically-motivated” that could be part of a strategy to “raise his national profile as a non-ideological problem solver.”
“Essentially, I think he’s trying to cultivate a national brand. But to be successful in this, people need to believe that he’s sincere. And I’m not sure people will believe that, given his record and rhetoric,” Devine said.
Wright State University political scientist Lee Hannah said even if Kasich is inclined to use the bully pulpit, he may not be effective with pro-gun conservatives who dominate the Ohio General Assembly. “ His ability to effect change will be dependent on how the national debate plays out over the next few months. I don’t think he can single-handedly move the needle,” he said.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Kasich needs to “walk the walk.”
If he’s serious about it, he is still governor for 10 months. He runs Ohio. It’s one thing to say it, another thing to do it,” said Whaley, a Democrat. “He can take action and there’s plenty of us who will support him, just like we did on Medicaid expansion.”
John Weaver, a strategist for Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, said on Twitter Sunday that Kasich’s views “have evolved,” like many, if not most, Americans’.
“We want our leaders to be unafraid to observe, listen & learn,” Weaver wrote.
In the wake of the latest school shooting, both sides of the gun debate appear far apart about preventing school shootings.
Jim Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association advocates for training school personnel to respond to active shooters. “This has nothing to do with gun rights, it has to do with school safety,” he said. “We are sick of their way leading to the death of our children. How many more children must die before we accept reality and implement a better plan?”
Toby Hoover of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence said assault weapons should be banned and she is glad to hear Kasich speaking out. “The plus side of that is it will also make others speak up to the issue, instead of running from it. I think anybody who in the next eight months is running for an office should have to answer to where they are on this.”
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