A New Approach To Background Checks, "Red Flag" From Ohio Governor

I will say this first and foremost; the presentation by Governor Mike DeWine today was the most thoughtful and thorough I’ve seen from a politician in the months since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton reignited the gun control debate. There’s much to support in the governor’s language, but what’s most interesting to me is the approach taken to the most controversial portions of the bill; the “red flag” and background check proposal. Both are worth serious consideration, if for no other reason that unlike most gun control bills, these proposals were put together with a sincere mind towards protecting the rights of gun owners, not trying to eradicate them. Already the mainstream media in Ohio is calling it a “retreat” from the governor’s earlier positions, when it seems to me that DeWine is at least trying to do something that works, instead of just “doing something.”


The background check measure proposed by Governor DeWine doesn’t impose any sort of universal background check on private sales. Instead, the governor wants to increase the penalties for providing a gun to a prohibited person, while lowering the standard to convict from “recklessness” to “negligence”. What is currently an 18-month prison sentence would be doubled to three years, according to the governor. To help private gun owners when they’re selling to strangers, the governor wants to create a process by which the seller can go to the county sheriff to conduct a background check.

Under the governor’s plan, people looking to sell a gun privately to another individual could go to their county sheriff, who would run a background check on the potential buyer. If the check came back clean, the sheriff would issue a “seller protection certificate” to the would-be seller, offering confidence that he or she was selling the gun to a respectable buyer.

It’s an interesting plan, though I think DeWine would have been better off increasing the penalties for selling a gun to a prohibited person without lowering the legal standard. DeWine is a champion of criminal justice reform, but it’s kinda hard to support criminal justice reform while making it easier to put people in prison for a longer period of time. Having said that, this is a much more workable idea than a compulsory background check law for even temporary transfers between friends. The premise behind DeWine’s proposal has some actual common sense to it. In fact it requires gun owners to use some common sense. Don’t know who’s buying your guns? Better make sure they’re allowed to have them. Selling them to one of your friends, or someone you know and trust? Go ahead.


DeWine’s approach to a “red flag” law is noticeably different from what we’ve seen in other states as well. First, it’s not really a “red flag” at all, but a “pink slip”, which is what Ohioans apparently call the paperwork to civilly commit someone. The process of removing firearms would exist within the existing civil commitment laws under DeWine’s plan. There is no scenario where police come and take your guns, and in three days to two weeks you have a hearing to determine if you’ll get them back. To DeWine’s credit, this proposal focuses on the individual, not just their guns. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer‘s Jeremy Pelzer calls it a “retreat” by the governor, but it’s actually one of the more thoughtful proposals I’ve seen in how deal with someone who’s in a crisis.

… the governor’s new proposal builds on state’s existing “pink-slip” law allowing involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for people suspected of being likely to cause harm to themselves or others. Under existing law, such people cannot own or buy a gun.

Individuals undergoing court-ordered treatment would have the option to sell their firearms to a licensed firearm dealer, turn their firearms over to a family member, or give them to police, according to his proposal.

Right now, state law doesn’t allow “pink slips” for drug or alcohol problems. The governor’s proposal would change the law to include such issues.

DeWine said he revised his earlier gun plan because of concerns it wouldn’t pass the GOP-dominated legislature. But he said the new plan would “get the job done.”


I have some concerns about expanding the civil commitment laws to include alcoholism and drug abuse, but I can also understand why some people might think it’s necessary. Ohio has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country, and it’s possible that this will allow thousands of individuals to fight their addiction and live a productive life.

Honestly, the measure isn’t a really a “gun bill” at all, but an expansion of the civil commitment process for gun owners and non-gun owners alike. Lt. Governor Jon Hulsted explicitly stated that one of the concerns about every other red flag law out there (with the exception of Maine) is that they all supposedly deal with people who are dangerous to themselves or others, but there’s no mental health component to the red flag order. It’s a gun control bill masquerading as a mental health bill. The proposal unveiled today is a true mental health measure, not a gun control bill, and my concerns about the pink slip portion of the bill are about how it would impact gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

The governor’s proposed legislation isn’t the end of the story. State legislators and other officials may end up offering complementary or competing legislation, and gun owners in the state should weigh each of these proposals in balance against each other. Without endorsing or condemning DeWine’s proposals (for the time being) beyond the concerns outlined above, I will say I do think this was a sincere attempt on the part of a lot of folks in Ohio (including some staunch 2nd Amendment supporters) to come up with something that passes constitutional muster as well as being effective, practical, and not about punishing legal gun ownership under the guise of promoting public safety. For that, I applaud the effort.



Join the conversation as a VIP Member