Ohio Gun Control Activists Going All In On Background Check Referendum

A group of Ohio activists that have been pushing for a ballot referendum on a “universal background check” law for the state say they’re doubling down on their efforts after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine backed away from his previous support in favor of legislation that would increase the penalty and lower the standard to convict someone of providing a prohibited person with a firearm. Among those speaking out in favor of the proposed “universal background check” referendum at a press conference today was Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who has become outspoken in favor of all sorts of gun control laws after the shooting in her city earlier this year that involved a firearm that was legally purchased with a background check conducted at the time of sale.

Whaley made it clear Wednesday that she believes DeWine’s plan doesn’t go far enough to curb gun violence.

“The only answer is stronger limitations on access to guns,” she said.

The bad news for Mayor Whaley is that a “universal background check” law doesn’t actually limit access to guns. Studies have shown that, even in California, background check laws are readily ignored by criminals, and similar laws in states like Washington and California have been put on the books only to see violent crime increase, without any increase in background checks being performed. Nonetheless, Whaley wants voters in Ohio to approve the law via a 2020 ballot measure, and she’s got company in her quest.

Ohioans For Gun Safety, the group backing the effort, has already collected about 20,000 of the 132,887 signatures from Ohio voters needed to force state lawmakers to consider the measure, according to Joe Sprague, a volunteer with the group. If, as expected, the Republican-dominated legislature fails to pass it, advocates could collect another 132,887 signatures to place the item on the 2020 statewide ballot.

Ohioans For Gun Safety spokesman Dennis Willard says his group will soon deploy both paid petition collectors and volunteers to gather the required signatures by late December, the deadline to make the 2020 ballot.

In addition, the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action is joining the push to collect signatures, representatives of the group said at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday.

The activists have a little more than two months to collect over 100,000 valid signatures, which may prove to be a tough haul. And if the activists fail to get the required number of signatures, what does that say about the real popularity of “universal background check” laws, which tend to poll very well in surveys but face much greater opposition when they’re actually on a ballot. Do people really believe someone should go to jail for 30 days for selling a gun to their brother-in-law or best friend of 20 years? Under this proposal, that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

What these activists are proposing is a nearly unenforceable law that does absolutely nothing to stop the illicit transfers of firearms among criminals, but could jail otherwise law-abiding gun owners on the off chance that they were somehow discovered to have transferred a firearm without a background check. Of course plenty of bad ideas turn into bad laws, so we’ll be keeping an eye on the signature gathering process in the weeks ahead.