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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: Ohio GOP has 'no appetite' for gun control; they prefer trans bathroom bill

a man in a suit gestures while speaking to reporters
Carolyn Kaster
Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens speaks to members of the media following a session of the Ohio House of Representatives in the Ohio Statehouse House Chamber on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Columbus.

Jason Stephens, the speaker of the Ohio House, says the Republican supermajority he leads has “no appetite” for new laws limiting access to guns.

This comes at a time when there have been a rash of mass shootings in Ohio, where people died or were injured. In Cincinnati. In Columbus. In Akron. In Dayton.

But not in Kitts Hill, the unincorporated community in rural Lawrence County in southeast Ohio where Stephens lives.

So, what do these Republican lawmakers — nearly all of them from rural areas and suburbs — have an “appetite” for?

They clearly have an appetite for passing laws aimed at making life more difficult than it already is for transgender Ohioans.

Their latest came last week, when, late at night, in a vote of 60-31, they passed a “bathroom bill,” telling trans students in Ohio K-12 schools and colleges and universities where they can and cannot relieve themselves. Two Republicans voted against it.

The bathroom bill comes out of the same legislature which has already banned trans athletes from participating in women’s sports, banned gender-affirming care for transgender teens, including hormone treatment and puberty blockers; and legislation which would force educators to “out” students to their parents.

RELATED: Ohio lawmakers advance more than 50 bills in 12-hour session, including transgender bathroom ban

State Rep. Beth Lear, a conservative Republican from Galena, is the primary sponsor of the bathroom bill and says it is necessary.

“Boys and girls should not be in locker rooms together,’’ Lear told the Ohio Statehouse News Bureau. “They should not be in bathrooms together and they should not be sharing overnight accommodations.”

But gun violence on the streets of Ohio’s cities — not on their radar. Telling transgender students they can’t use bathrooms or locker rooms that don’t confirm with their birth identity is, so they passed it

Then they went on summer break.

The Ohio Senate will take up the bathroom bill when the legislature comes back in September and, with a 26-7 Republican majority, it will surely pass there.

Allison Russo, the leader of the Democrats in the Ohio House, has three school age children. She told Statehouse reporters she has never heard from any school officials about trans students and where they can go to the bathroom.

“This is a made-up problem,” Russo said.

Yet for Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly it is the number one problem in Ohio. Not infrastructure. Not transportation. Not education and how to fund it. And certainly not gun violence in Ohio’s cities.

“Gun control laws simply just don’t work, in my opinion,” Stephens said.

There has been no acknowledgement from the GOP majority in the legislature that this is even a problem. But there is evidence that gun violence is the greatest threat to children and teenagers in this country.

RELATED: After mass shootings, gun policy low on priority list at Ohio Statehouse

In recent years, the Centers for Disease control has found that, for Americans ages 1 through 17, there have been more deaths from gun violence than any other cause. More than motor vehicle deaths. More than cancer. More than congenital birth defects. More than any other cause of death.

But in the Ohio legislature, nothing happens. There is no “appetite” for it.

Stephens went on to tell the Statehouse press that most of the members of his caucus come from small counties where there may be only one sheriff’s deputy on duty at any given time and that the people there have the means to “defend themselves.”

He may want to run that by Anna Albi, the first-term Cincinnati City Council member from Madisonville. Before being elected to Council, Albi was well-known as an anti-gun violence activist; and is the local leader of Moms Demand Action, a national organization that lobbies for stricter gun laws.

Sadly, on June 15, Albi saw the effects of gun violence on the street where she lives.

It was “Madisonville Day,” a community celebration of all the progress that the neighborhood has made in recent years. Many families were in Bramble Park, enjoying the day, when gunfire broke out about 6 p.m., sending people scrambling for cover.

Five people, ages 24-46, were shot; and treated for non-life threatening wounds.

Anna Albi
Anna Albi

“People in Madisonville were pretty rattled by this,’’ Albi said. “They were just there celebrating their neighborhood. But when something like that happens you take away people’s sense of security.”

Albi said that partisan gerrymandering is at the root of the inability to get gun control measures passed in the Ohio General Assembly.

“We have an extremist group in the legislature that has more devotion to the gun industry than they do to the safety of people in this state,’’ said Albi, a Democrat. “They do not feel any kind of obligation to deal with the problem of gun violence in our cities.”

The state of Ohio, Albi said, takes the position that it is a problem city governments must address.

“But when we do, as we have in Cincinnati, the state comes in and sues us over some home rule issue,” Albi said. “We’ve been abandoned.”

LISTEN: City leaders discuss the legal battles over gun laws in Cincinnati

That is exactly what happened with the safe gun storage ordinance City Council passed last year.

Albi said she will work to convince voters to pass the Citizens Not Politicians state constitutional amendment that will likely be on the ballot in November.

It would take the drawing of legislative district lines out of the hands of elected officials and would put the responsibility in the hands of a 15-member citizens’ commission. The goal, its supporters say, is to create more competitive districts and, ultimately, possibly end the GOP supermajority.

If that works, the GOP would still have a majority but would likely have to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats.

“Not until we fix the state of Ohio can we have common-sense gun laws,’’ Albi said. “It’s out best hope for the future.”

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