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DeWine's Proposed Regulations Marks Shift In Gun Debate

Gov. Mike DeWine unveils 17-point plan to reduce gun violence.
Andy Chow
Gov. Mike DeWine unveils 17-point plan to reduce gun violence.

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) is calling for a version of the "Red Flag Law," expanded background checks, and other gun control proposals in the wake of the mass shooting in Dayton that left nine people dead. These proposals represent a dramatic shift in the way Ohio's state leadership has handled gun policies for most of the decade.

As DeWine rolled out his 17-point plan to reduce gun violence, he reflected on Sunday night's vigil for the Dayton shooting victims. During his address people started chanting "Do something," which eventually drowned out the rest of his remarks.

"I understand that anger, for it's impossible to make sense out of what is senseless," DeWine said during a press conference Tuesday morning. "Some chanted 'do something' and they were absolutely right."

DeWine says he's introducing a "safety protection order" which reflects what many other states call the "Red Flag Law." This allows a judge to confiscate firearms from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. His plan would also require background checks for all gun purchases and transfers with some exemptions, strengthen penalties on crimes involving guns, and increase access to mental health treatment.

DeWine says there's no magic solution to stopping gun violence, "but I can tell you this, if we do these things, it will matter, if we do these things it will make us safer."

Critics say these measures should've been introduced earlier. But DeWine says they've been working on this issue, although he admits the Dayton shooting is playing a role.

"But look, we're all human, tragedy focuses you and you know it was time to get them out," says DeWine.

Since 2011, Republicans have controlled the Ohio House, Ohio Senate, and Ohio Governor's office, with little to no interest in passing strong gun regulations. Former Gov. John Kasich did push for some of these measures in his last year in office but that came after signing many pro-gun bills into law.

This has been met with great frustration by State Senator Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) and other Democrats who have spent years introducing bills that reflect what DeWine is now calling for.

"Republicans got to step up they've got to do some self-evaluation of their values you know people are dying people are suffering from all of this," says Thomas.

State Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) says she will no longer be timid in expressing her support for "common sense" regulation.

"To put a gun in the hands of someone who is mentally ill and has ill will towards other people is not protecting our constitutional rights it's just plain foolish, it's stupid," says Lehner.

For years lawmakers have passed pro-gun policies, such as expanding the ability to carry concealed weapons in daycares, college campuses, and parts of airports. They've also pushed to allow people to carry concealed weapons without permits or training.

Now Senate Republican Spokesperson John Fortney says legislators want to take their time on DeWine's proposed regulations, despite mounting public pressure.

"The fact is, results count. You can't have an unconstitutional law or an ineffective law passed because it does nothing to protect the public. If it's more important to score political points just to pass a law and pat yourself on the back, you're dishonoring the dead," says Fortney.

Chris Dorr, director of Ohio Gun Owners, is staunchly opposed to DeWine's version of the "Red Flag Law."

"He can call that pig what he wants to, he can put as much lipstick on it, but a safety protection order is still a red flags order, you're still not convicted of a crime," Dorr says.

While Dorr believes DeWine goes too far, there are gun control advocates that are pushing for even more, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

DeWine acknowledges the divide in the wake of the mass shootings.

"Look we might have some differences, we should never forget that what holds us together as Americans, as Ohioans, is so much greater than any differences," says DeWine who plans to spend time reaching out to Republican leaders in the House and Senate to try and bridge the divide to build support for his proposals.

The group, Ohioans for Gun Safety, is circulating a petition to put expanded background checks on the state ballot as early as November 2020, so voters could decide on the issue if the Ohio Legislature doesn't act.

Copyright 2019 The Statehouse News Bureau

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.