Ohio Republican proposes co-signers for under-21 gun buyers

AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar

Actually, that’s just one part of Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan’s new five-point plan aimed at “changing the conversation about public safety” in Ohio, and to his credit not every part of his proposal is as misguided as the one in the headline above. On balance, however, Second Amendment supporters aren’t going to find much to get excited about by the Republican’s new legislation… and other Ohio Republicans may very well be wondering why their colleague decided to drop a gun control bomb just a couple of months before the midterm elections.

Dolan was the primary author of the STRONG Ohio legislation introduced two years ago, and despite the backing of Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. John Husted, the bill went nowhere thanks to a lack of support by Republican legislators. Dolan’s latest gun bill isn’t a mirror image of his previous attempt to “reform” the state’s gun laws, though it does contain elements of his earlier bill.

The bill would create what it calls a due process safety protection order. A judge could issue that order to police, to seize and temporarily hold the firearms of a person deemed by the judge to be a danger to themselves or others because of mental health issues.

The bill would require a co-signer for purchases of guns by people ages 18 to 21. That co-signer, who must be over 25 years old, could be held civilly liable if the gun is used in a felony while the buyer is under 21.

Dolan’s bill also includes a seller’s protection certificate, which was in the STRONG Ohio proposal. It also requires enhanced background check information be added into state and federal law enforcement databases by the end of the next business day.

And it includes more money to increase the number of mental health treatment workers and expansion of regional mental health centers. But it doesn’t specify how much.

Dolan wants a “red flag” law, though we apparently shouldn’t call it that. Despite calling it a “due process safety protection order,” I can’t see how the measure differs much from other “red flag” laws that are already on the books in a number of other states. Ex parte hearings where the subject of the petition may not be present are still in Dolan’s bill, and those subject to an order are still not entitled to a public defender if they can’t afford to hire an attorney because the petitions are considered civil, not criminal matters.

The “seller’s protection certificate” is also deceptively described. Under Dolan’s bill, gun owners who sell a firearm in a private person-to-person transaction could be held liable if that gun is used in a crime unless they required the buyer to go through a background check conducted by their local sheriff, who will issue them a “seller’s protection certificate” if they are approved. The buyer is then supposed to give that certificate to the seller of the gun, who is then supposed to keep hold of it indefinitely. If the gun is ever used in a crime, the seller just has to show his certificate and will be immune from any criminal liability related to the sale of the gun. If they don’t have that certificate, on the other hand, they could be held liable for the actions of whoever took possession of the firearm after the sale was complete.

It’s not a universal background check mandate, but it’s definitely designed to pressure gun owners to require a certificate (which in turn requires a background check) before any private person-to-person sale takes place.

As for the co-signers for under-21 adults buying a firearm, I don’t see how on earth that would stand up to legal scrutiny even if Dolan’s fellow Republicans get on board. If Dolan doesn’t think that 20-year olds are responsible enough to exercise their 2A rights he should simply say so, but forcing someone else to claim responsibility for another person’s actions simply because of their age is a truly terrible idea.

I can get behind expanding access to mental health, especially since the shortage in staffers has created a “crisis” in the state’s mental health system, but every one of his gun control proposals is too fundamentally flawed for me to support. The fact that there’s no specific funding target for the mental health components of the bill suggests that they’re fairly extraneous to Dolan as well. This is a bill about gun control, not mental health, and while Dolan’s measures may not be quite as onerous as what Ohio Democrats like Nan Whaley are demanding, that doesn’t mean they would be a step in the right direction.

Whaley has been trying to make gun control an issue in her gubernatorial campaign, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working. A new poll shows DeWine leading Whaley by a whopping 16 points, up 49/33 over the Democrat. Dolan stood side by side with DeWine when STRONG Ohio was introduced in 2020, which makes me wonder if DeWine isn’t going to try to use the new legislation to promote himself as a champion of the Second Amendment (he signed the state’s permitless carry law) as well as “reasonable” steps to ensure public safety like Dolan’s proposals. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it, but I do have serious doubts about whether DeWine will be able to get enough Republicans to go along to make the bill a reality. The governor may be wanting to appear more moderate on gun issues, but that’s far less of a concern for most GOP candidates running in relatively safe districts in a year that favors Republicans. Instead of showing his strength, DeWine may very well end up demonstrating that he doesn’t have the power to move lawmakers in his direction; something that Whaley will undoubtably try to use to her advantage between now and Election Day.