DeWine allies push for passage of STRONG Ohio gun bill in lame duck session

DeWine allies push for passage of STRONG Ohio gun bill in lame duck session
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine cruised to re-election last week, defeating Democrat Nan Whaley by an eye-popping 25 points. Now the governor, who signed Constitutional Carry into law back in March, is hoping to spend some of his newly-acquired political capital to put several new gun control measures on the books, and his allies in the state legislature are doing everything they can to help.

The bill in question is SB 357, and though it’s been bottled up in committee for most of the year, there’s now a push to move the bill forward during the legislature’s lame-duck session that started this week.

An attempt to revive some of the “Strong Ohio” proposals against gun violence, stalled in the General Assembly since 2019, faces a timeline that’s hard to meet.

State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, is trying to resurrect some of the “Strong Ohio” proposals against gun violence that stalled in the legislature in 2019. His Senate Bill 357 will get a first hearing, but also faces a tight timeline. The bill includes a “red flag” provision, better background checks, some limitation on private sales, and using $175 million in federal funds to improve mental healthcare.

Gov. Mike DeWine has signaled approval of the bill, which includes some of the ideas he unsuccessfully floated following the August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee held its first hearing on SB 357, but didn’t hold a vote on the measure. Dolan, meanwhile, has made a few tweaks to the legislation, which would create a new category of prohibited persons, require adults under the age of 21 to have a co-signer for all gun purchases, and establish a “seller’s protection certificate” that is designed to encourage (but not require) background checks on private transfers of firearms.

“Everything in this sub bill is about before you buy a gun,” said Dolan, who chairs the finance committee.

During months of campaigning for the Nov. 8 election, legislators heard people statewide asking what they’d do to prevent gun violence, he said.

From speaking with healthcare personnel, law enforcement and others, it became clear the state’s current involuntary commitment program is not sufficient to identify all the at-risk people who shouldn’t be able to buy guns, Dolan said.

His substitute bill adds a sixth “disability” to state laws preventing people from buying guns. Existing ones prohibit fugitives from justice, felons, those who committed juvenile crimes that would be adult felonies, drug addicts and alcoholics, and those with established dangerous mental problems from buying guns, he said.

Dolan’s bill adds people who go before a behavioral risk assessment team and have been determined to be a “suicidal or homicidal risk.”

Ohio law already prohibits people under age 21 from buying handguns, he said. His bill would add that under-21 buyers of other guns would need a cosigner age 25 or older. There are exceptions for anyone under 21 in law enforcement or the military, Dolan said.

For some reason Dolan’s really focused on the fact that these provisions are all directed at individuals before they purchase a firearm, though that doesn’t mean that any or all of his proposals would be constitutional or effective.

Take his new category of prohibited persons, for example. The supposed reason to add those who’ve been determined by a behavioral risk assessment team to be a “suicidal or homicidal risk” is that the state’s current involuntary commitment law isn’t working as well as it should. Seems to me the proper legislative response would be to determine why that’s the case and work to fix the existing law, rather than avoiding improving the state’s mental health system by making it easier to deny some individuals the ability to purchase a firearm. If someone truly is a risk to themselves or others, simply denying them the ability to purchase a firearm at a gun store isn’t going to make them any less dangerous, but Dolan’s bill treats guns as the issue and not the supposedly dangerous individual.

There are also major issues with Dolan’s desire to force young adults to find someone who’ll sign off on their gun ownership. The co-signer assumes some legal liability if the under-21 gun buyer were to misuse the firearm; an extraordinary provision that is unlike any existing (or historical) gun regulation that I’m aware of. Not only would this have a chilling effect on the Second Amendment rights of young adults, it’s hard to see how this restriction even remotely fits with the text, history, and tradition of the right to keep and bear arms.

SB 357 has been floating around the Ohio legislature in one form or another since 2019, and so far it’s received a very cool reception from the Republican majority. Clearly DeWine is hoping to capitalize on his overwhelming victory last week, but whether or not his Republican colleagues in the statehouse have had a change of heart about his gun proposals is still very much up in the air. The first test will be a vote in the Senate Finance Committee, and Ohio gun owners should be reaching out to those committee members to share their concerns before the bill has a chance to reach the Senate floor.