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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: DeWine hands Democratic foes a ready-made campaign issue

Ohio Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine speaks during an interview at his campaign phone bank, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo
Mike DeWine in Cincinnati in 2018.

Congratulations, Gov. Mike DeWine. You just handed the two Democratic candidates who want to replace you a world-class campaign issue to run on.

You signed a bill into law this week removing background checks, training and permits from the ability to carry a concealed weapon in Ohio.

And the two Democratic candidates for governor — former Cincinnati mayor John Cranley and former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley — will be more than happy to beat you over the head with the permit-less concealed carry law in the fall campaign, should you survive the GOP primary.

In fact, they have already started.

Cranley said Tuesday that signing the bill "is a stain on Mike DeWine's soul."

Whaley, who is angry at DeWine for repeatedly reneging on a 2019 promise to work for gun control after a mass shooting in Dayton's Oregon District, said DeWine "knows better and he just goes along with the radicals in his party."

One of these two is going to win the Democratic primary for governor. And, given the considerable opposition there is to this law, particularly in Ohio's law enforcement community, you can expect the Democratic nominee to hammer DeWine at every turn with this issue.

Wednesday, after two days of being hammered by Democrats and gun control advocates, DeWine tried to do a quick pivot on the issue, by telling reporters he signed the bill because it is "consistent with the United States Constitution."

There are other pieces of legislation before the Ohio General Assembly, DeWine said, that could help reduce gun violence — including one that gives judges the ability to put a repeat violent offender in prison for 10 years if found in possession of an illegal firearm.

But DeWine said nothing that is going to stop Democrats from trying to make him personally responsible for signing into law a bill they say will increase gun violence.

There's a lot to talk about with Senate Bill 215, now the law of the land in Ohio.

With this new law taking effect in 90 days, it will be open season for gun-toting. No permits. No eight hours of training. No check of the records to see if you are fit to carry a deadly weapon. No requirement that, in a traffic stop, you tell a police officer you are carrying a concealed weapon. Nothing. Wide open.

Of course, the NRA and the Buckeye Firearms Association, which have their hooks into most of the Republicans in the legislature, are wearing their party hats and celebrating this as a great victory for Second Amendment rights. They are positively giddy over this development.

And there is no doubt that DeWine, who is locked in a tough Republican primary campaign against three gun-loving opponents, felt obliged to sign this legislation into law to mollify GOP primary voters who are quite fond of their guns.

Ohio, with this new law, becomes the 23rd state in the nation with a permit-less concealed carry law. It's a trend that has been sweeping the country like an out-of-control prairie fire in recent years.

In Ohio, this bill was the brainchild of State Sen. Terry Johnson, who took to the floor of the Ohio Senate to tell his colleagues that the bill was in part a response to protestors "burning down their own cities," a reference to racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of a police officer in 2020.

We wonder how the senator acquired this vast knowledge of race relations in urban America given the fact that he comes from McDermott, Ohio, in Scioto County.

There are, according to the U.S. Census, exactly 394 souls living in McDermott. Also from the census: McDermott is 99% white, 1% Black, with zero Hispanics or Asian folks.

The fact is this bill was supported, for the most part, by a bunch of GOP legislators from small towns, rural areas and suburbs who only go to the big city when the legislature is in session.

Who opposes this new law?

Well, the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio for one. The Ohio's FOP's president wrote a strong column in opposition that ran in the Columbus Dispatch; and many of its members have spoken out against it.

Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey has expressed concern that the new law would not require that, in a traffic stop, a person carrying a concealed weapon to tell the police officer about the weapon unless the officer asked.

In January 2021, DeWine signed the controversial "Stand Your Ground" bill, which removes the requirement for a person to retreat before shooting someone in self defense. Whaley, Cranley and all the state's big city mayors were enraged over that. But DeWine said he had promised to do so in his 2018 campaign for governor.

DeWine made no comment whatsoever Monday when he signed Senate Bill 215 into law.

But on Tuesday, his campaign press secretary issued a brief statement — but only after I asked the campaign for something that would explain why DeWine would sign a bill that was not veto-proof.

Here's what Tricia McLaughlin, the campaign press secretary offered:

"The Governor signed the bill as he promised he would do four years ago."

The same answer as the one for the Stand Your Ground bill.

That would have been a great explanation in 2018, but by the summer of 2019, DeWine, in his first year as governor, was singing a different tune.

In August 2019, after a horrific night in which a lone gunman killed nine people and wounded 23 others in Dayton's crowded Oregon entertainment district, DeWine went to Dayton and stood side-by-side with Whaley at a vigil in a park near Oregon District.

As he spoke, the crowd began a loud and clear chant, directed at him: Do something! Do something!

mike dewine dayton shooting
John Minchillo
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks alongside Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley during a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. A masked gunman in body armor opened fire early Sunday in the popular entertainment district in Dayton, killing several people, including his sister, and wounding dozens before he was quickly slain by police, officials said.

DeWine was visibly affected by the chant. Two months later, he returned to Dayton and stood by Whaley as he announced his "Strong Ohio" gun reform plan. As soon as the Republican legislators — their campaign funds full of gun lobby money — made it clear they weren’t buying it, DeWine caved; and we ended up with Stand Your Ground and, now, the permit-less concealed carry law.

"He says whatever is politically convenient at the time," Whaley told me. "Then he does something like this and he shows who he really is.

"He made this promise in Dayton, after nine people were murdered and 23 others wounded," Whaley said. "That promise meant nothing to him. I know firsthand just how weak he really is."

Cranley told me that the end result of this new law will be more and more gun violence, particularly in the state's largest cities.

"It's going to lead to killings; it's going to lead to deaths; it's going to put police officers' lives in danger," Cranley said.

"I honestly thought he would veto it," Cranley said. "Instead, we've seen an evil kowtowing to the special interests."

A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Ohio's Democratic primary voters don't know enough about Whaley or Cranley to form an opinion or choose between them. If they plan to carry the party's banner in the fall campaign for governor, they are going to need to make themselves known to Ohio voters of all political stripes.

This issue will help them do that.

Some have argued that Mike DeWine was between a rock and a hard place when Senate Bill 215 landed on his desk. But that's his problem, not the voters'. Nobody cares how uncomfortable this made the governor feel.

He did what he did. He owns it. And now we wait to see if there is a political price to be paid for it.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.