In the wake of mass shootings earlier this month, including one in Dayton, state lawmakers are calling for change to end the senseless violence against innocent people.
State representatives, senators and Gov. Mike DeWine have laid out proposals for gun reform, but do not agree on what exactly should be done. Some are calling for common sense gun laws, including universal background checks and a red flag law, some want increased mental health services, while others want to be prudent and careful to find the best solution to protect Ohioans.
State Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson, agreed that lawmakers must do something to stop the violence, but did not want the process to be hasty. “I worry about that, and not just with these proposals, with many other legislative proposals during my time in the Ohio Senate,” Sen. Eklund said. “I think we need to be cautious. We need to be deliberate. I don’t mean slow. I mean deliberate about what the proposals are and what the consequences might be.”
Nearly two weeks ago, two unrelated mass shootings took place hours apart in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Texas gunman Patrick Crusius, 21, who surrendered to authorities, is accused of fatally shooting 22 people and wounding more than two dozen at a Walmart. Police shot and killed Connor Betts, 24, after he allegedly opened fire in a Dayton entertainment district, killing nine people and injuring 14. Semiautomatic guns were used in both shootings.
After the shootings, Gov. DeWine proposed 17 measures for gun reform. He is asking for a red flag bill, which would remove firearms from potentially dangerous individuals and send them to mental health treatment while maintaining their right to due process. He also is asking for increased access to in-patient psychiatric care, behavioral health services, early intervention and risk factor and resource identification.
His administration is seeking to expand the state’s school tip line and social media monitoring, while the biennial state budget provides funding for community safety and school intervention programs. Gov. DeWine also is calling on the legislature to require background checks for every firearm sale with several exceptions, such as a gift between family members.
In addition, his proposals include increased penalties for straw purchases, illegally obtained guns, brandishing a gun, for felons and violent felons who illegally possess firearms, people who commit felonies while possessing firearms and those who improperly provide firearms to minors.
“I believe these proposals fulfill three important requirements. They can pass the legislature, they make meaningful progress toward safer communities and they are Constitutional,” Gov. DeWine said during a news conference.
State Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chester, recalled her experience as a child psychiatric nurse and said that Ohio needs to focus on mental health. She explained that mental health is the common cause of the mass killings with some shooters having been diagnosed with a mental illness.
“It’s the mental health aspect,” she said. “We know the violence is out there and we’re doing nothing.”
Sen. Eklund agreed that mental health is the driving cause behind these acts of violence.
“Identifying those people, getting them the help that they need and keeping dangerous weapons out of their hands seems to be an important part of the puzzle,” he said.
State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, said that Ohio is providing funding for mental health. He is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and said that the biennial state budget included funding for suicide prevention and wellness programs in schools. His focus, however, is balancing the rights of gun owners with regulating the use of guns.
“Given the nature of our politics, we need to protect the right to own a gun but we should be able to legislate the use of those guns,” Sen. Dolan said. “We need to make sure that those who are going to do harm do not get a gun. If we don’t curb the amount of illegally obtained guns, we’re going to have trouble curbing gun violence.”
Debate over red flag bill
Sen. Dolan said that he will support the red flag bill to identify individuals who could harm themselves or others but maintain due process. Rep. Grendell said that the governor’s proposals should not take away the rights of innocent people.
“Flagging has potential but you can’t just throw it out there. You have to figure out who will enforce it,” she said.
In 2018, Sen. Eklund co-sponsored a red flag bill, but said that the legislature did not have much of an “appetite” for it at the time. State Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, said that she has always supported common sense gun safety measures, including the red flag bill and universal background checks.
State Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, co-sponsored House Bill 317 last week, also known as PLEA, the Protect Law Enforcement Act. This legislation would require all firearms transactions to be processed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, closing current loopholes in gun sales. Rep. Robinson said that guns need to be kept out of the hands of minors, felons, criminals and domestic abusers.
He explained that federal law already requires licensed dealers to perform a background check at the point of sale, but PLEA would hold unlicensed firearms dealers to the same standard. It would make Ohio a transfer state, meaning that a background check would be required when a transaction occurs.
“I spent a lot of time in the district talking to families and listening to their concerns. It’s important to make sure we have common sense gun safety measures,” Rep. Robinson said. “This is a plea to protect law enforcement efforts, a plea to keep children safe and a plea to keep families safe.”
Future of gun reform
Rep. Grendell said that she will review Gov. DeWine’s proposed legislation when it comes to her committee. She is a member of the Criminal Justice Committee and the co-chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Criminal Sentencing. She said that she will look for the most effective solution, and sometimes passing a few strong bills works better than passing many bills that may not all be successful.
Rep. Brent said that many gun reform bills have been introduced but have not had any hearings. She said that the legislature is being “reactive instead of proactive,” and that lawmakers cannot wait until a tragedy happens to make changes.
“We treat a lot of things in Ohio the same way. We wait until it bottoms out before we take action,” she said. “I’m for what the governor is doing, but I wish we would be more proactive.”
For Gov. DeWine’s proposals, Sen. Eklund said that he expects some bipartisan support but also some resistance. Sen. Eklund said that Gov. DeWine is handling gun reform in a similar manner as former Gov. John Kasich. Both realize that it is a “multi-level issue” and encompasses many different elements of society, he said.
Sen. Dolan said that Gov. DeWine engages with the legislature collectively and individually and understands the legislative process. There is more communication with Gov. DeWine than past governors, Sen. Dolan said, which is imperative to make progress.