Mike DeWine's Gun Control Bills Are In Trouble In Ohio
AP Photo/Paul Vernon

It’s been six months since a shooting in Dayton, Ohio left nine people dead and twenty others wounded. In the aftermath of the mass murder, Gov. Mike DeWine in August of 2019 called for lawmakers to adopt a red flag law and universal background checks, but when he rolled out his official proposals a couple of months later, the language had changed. Instead of an Extreme Risk Protection Order, DeWine called for allowing involuntary commitments for drug and alcohol abuse, and rather than a universal background check law, the governor unveiled a plan to allow for voluntary private background checks conducted by county sheriffs.

Since then, the proposals have gone nowhere, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that several high-ranking Republican lawmakers remain uncommitted or opposed to DeWine’s agenda.

House Speaker Larry Householder, who represents a rural district east of Columbus, said Tuesday the gun debate falls along demographic lines.

Householder, a powerful Republican, is a key figure in deciding whether DeWine’s gun plan, or anything in it, will advance.

People in his district and communities like it view guns as not only a right, but part of their way of life, Householder said.

“We have to protect ourselves. So how do you balance this with taking someone’s right away?… I’m of the belief that the biggest gun lobby we have in the state of Ohio are the millions upon millions of Ohioans who lawfully own firearms for sport and protection. I don’t so much worry about the NRA or anyone else,” he said…

Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, called himself a “staunch defender of the Second Amendment.”

He said less controversial aspects of the governor’s plan, such as increasing criminal penalties for gun-related offenses, or trying to increase the state’s capacity to house people with mental illnesses, have been taken up recently by the legislature through other bills.

“I can’t guarantee one way or the other that any of them will get any particular votes. That’s up to the members to decide which are the right policies,” he said. “But we’re certainly having a full and fair discussion of the issues, and we certainly are vetting them as fully as possible.”

Despite the clear signals from legislative leaders, DeWine is still trying to paint as sunny a picture as possible for the future of his agenda.

When DeWine was asked Tuesday how he planned to ensure his gun-reform package passes the legislature, the governor — as he has before — expressed optimism that legislators will pass it.

“I’m not reading the [legislature’s] reception as being a bad reception. You know some of these things take time,” DeWine said. “But, you know, this is a priority. This is important.”

As Sen. Obhof points out, some of the governor’s proposals are moving forward, but the portion of his Ohio STRONG agenda that could impact the rights of gun owners is what’s really in trouble. The truth is, while in theory I like the idea of being able to voluntarily access the NICS system for private sales, DeWine’s bill isn’t really voluntary at all. Coupled with the ability to have a local sheriff conduct a background check on a private gun buyer, the legislation lowers the standard needed for prosecutors to go after a gun seller who didn’t use the convoluted system DeWine would set up. There are legitimate reasons for legal gun owners to be concerned about DeWine’s proposals, and if he really wants to see the measures get a fair hearing in the legislature, he’d do well to actually listen to those concerns instead of dismissing them.