While Republicans on Capitol Hill are waiting to see what, if any, gun control proposals President Trump will get behind, several Republican state lawmakers in Ohio and Florida are busy pushing a few gun control measures of their own. In Columbus, State Senator Peggy Lehner is co-sponsoring at least anti-gun bills that will get a look by the senate’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee today.
Senate Bill 182, introduced by state Sens. Cecil Thomas (a Cincinnati Democrat) and Peggy Lehner (a Dayton-area Republican), would raise the penalty for buying guns illegally for a minor from a fifth-degree felony to a third-degree felony. It would also raise Ohio’s minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.
Senate Bill 183, also introduced by Thomas and Lehner, would require background checks for all gun sales in Ohio – with a few exceptions, including gifts of firearms between family members. Federal law already requires licensed dealers to conduct background checks before selling firearms; the proposal would target sales online and at gun shows.
Gun sellers who violate the proposed background-check law would be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days behind bars and a $250 fine. Repeat offenders would face more severe penalties.
Senate Bill 184, introduced by Lehner and Democratic state Sen. Sandra Williams of Cleveland, would enact a “red-flag” law, allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize firearms if a judge finds the owners are a threat to themselves or others. A survey conducted last month by several Ohio newspapers found a near-majority of senators support a red-flag measure, which Gov. Mike DeWine and others call an “Extreme Risk Protection Order.”
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer notes that one other Republican lawmaker is backing the gun control legislation, along with 8 of the 9 Democrats in the state Senate, which means at least 7 more GOP state senators would need to sign on for any of the bills to pass out of the chamber.
Meanwhile in Florida, state Senator Bill Lee, who’s in charge of the Senate committee on infrastructure and security says he’s willing to consider a bill to expand background checks and the state’s new red flag law.
“There’s no silver bullet,” he said. “We need to take a comprehensive approach.”
The Florida committee isn’t expected to advance any gun control legislation in the near future. Instead, committee members will be talking with law enforcement, mental health professionals, and other stakeholders over the coming months to make recommendations on any potential changes to state law. Still, it sounds like Senator Lee has decided to get behind a background check bill.
“Of all the things I’ve reviewed, and all the ideas that have come forward, that’s the one that seems to me to make the most common sense, not just to me, but to the average Floridian,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa.
But whether his Republican colleagues will support it is much less certain, he said.
There was at least one attendee of the committee meeting who didn’t sound too enthusiastic about expanding background checks.
Rick Swearingen, the commissioner for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, then jumped in to say that he doubted enhanced background checks would make a difference at stopping a mass shooting.
“How does that help us in this scenario with mass shooters? I don’t know that that makes a difference,” Swearingen said. “I don’t think, statistically, that changes the game here.”
Unfortunately, it seems like support for expanding background checks is less about making a difference and more about “doing something”. It’s a politically popular idea, even if the measure doesn’t reduce crime or lead to increased background checks. For lawmakers in Florida and Ohio who are interested in telling constituents that they’ve taken some action, the effectiveness of the law may be secondary to putting a new law on the books in the first place.