Commentary: Ohio's Republican-Controlled Legislature Is More Likely To Do Nothing Than Something

Aug 6, 2019

In May, when 14 tornadoes ripped through Dayton, Ohio, and its suburbs, there was no force on Earth that could stop the destruction.

Tornadoes can't be legislated out of existence.

Some would argue neither can the tragedy that fell upon Dayton's trendy Oregon District this past weekend, as hundreds were partying on the cobblestones of E. Fifth Street.

That is when a seriously disturbed 24-year-old from suburban Bellbrook, clad in body armor and wielding a high-power, military-style assault weapon, began a rapid-fire rampage which left nine dead and 26 wounded. One of the dead was the gunman's own sister.

Couldn't be avoided, some say. It's the mental illness that kills people, not the gun. The gun, they say, is the right of every American to own and carry. If people happen to die, it is because of mental illness.

Nonsense.

It is the biggest lie in American politics – the notion that the Second Amendment to the Constitution prevents this society from passing laws to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the insane or radicals of all stripes.

Tell it to the families in Dayton who lost sons and daughters, fathers and mothers in a moment of madness. Tell it to the families of the victims of the massacre the day before in El Paso, Texas.

In Dayton, Mayor Nan Whaley made it clear that the Dayton police responded so quickly they were able to shoot and kill the gunman within a minute of when he began firing.

With the high-caliber weapon he was using, Whaley said at a press briefing Sunday morning, there might have been hundreds of victims dead and wounded in the Oregon District if it had not been for the quick action of police.

Mental illness does not kill people. Mentally ill people with deadly weapons do.

In Dayton, people are clearly not going to accept without question the excuses made by politicians under the influence of the National Rifle Association.

Sunday night, in a park nearby the scene of the shooting, hundreds of people gathered to hold a vigil for the victims and their loved ones. 

Mourners visit a makeshift memorial outside Ned Peppers bar following a vigil at the scene of the mass shooting early Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio.
Credit John Minchillo / AP

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine – who has had an up-and-down relationship with the NRA over his long career in politics – spoke at the vigil. While he spoke, one man in the audience shouted "Do something!" Dozens of others took up the chant and soon, DeWine was all but drowned out by the hundreds of people chanting.

DeWine has been working on a "red flag law" – the same kind of law that was adopted in Indiana 12 years ago.

It's pretty simple – it would allow law enforcement officers and relatives to petition a court to take guns away from people who are deemed to be dangerous.

Would it bring about the end of gun violence?

No, of course not.

But it just might have kept dangerous weapons out of the hands of the shooters in Dayton and El Paso and dozens of other cities around the country.

But with a Republican-controlled legislature in Columbus where the reach of the NRA is deep and powerful, there are few willing to bet on passage of an Ohio red flag law.

DeWine's predecessor, Republican John Kasich, tried and failed with the GOP legislature.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, a close friend of Whaley's, has been talking to her often since the shootings.

Cranley said he has particularly impressed by Whaley's response to the chanting.

"It was pretty remarkable,'' Cranley said. "She was able to silence the crowd, simply by telling them that this was the night to honor the dead and comfort their families. The time for action is coming. It is coming very soon. But not tonight."

Next month, Cranley, Whaley and a large bipartisan contingent of mayors from around Ohio plan to descend on the Statehouse in Columbus to lobby legislators to pass a red flag law.

Cranley said he talked to Whaley Sunday morning, only hours after the shootings. He said he told her about his experience last September dealing with the aftermath of a shooting in the lobby of the Fifth Third Center on Fountain Square that left three dead and two wounded.

"We talked mostly about the sadness and grief,'' Cranley said. "All I could say to her is to be present, show up, talk to the officers, the victims' families.

"Of course, she knew that,'' Cranley said. "Nan really shines in situations like this. She has empathy for people. And the people of Dayton sense that."

Monday morning, on NPR, Whaley said she is focused on the people of Dayton, helping them cope with the tragedy. "That's my job,'' she said. "Now I wish the people in Columbus and Washington, D.C. would do theirs."

Passing meaningful gun control legislation will not be easy. Too many legislators are under the thumb of the NRA. Many fear that if the buck the NRA, they will be risking re-election.

Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senior senator from Ohio, had an answer for that when he appeared on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday morning.

"I've had a lifetime 'F' from the NRA in a state that elects a lot of people that support the NRA,'' Brown said. "But I know you can stand up against the gun lobby and win elections."

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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