The surprising coalition that derailed Ohio gun bill

The surprising coalition that derailed Ohio gun bill
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine may have won his re-election bid by double-digits last month, but that doesn’t mean that lawmakers in Columbus are any more amenable to his crime-fighting efforts than they were before Election Day. A late-night bid to enact one of DeWine’s proposals failed in the waning moments of the state’s lame-duck legislative session last week thanks to an unusual coalition of Republicans and Democrats, despite the governor’s backing.

The measure was aimed at those who’ve lost their right to keep and bear arms; increasing the penalties for a second or third violation of the state’s prohibited possessor law. Oddly, however, many of the same Democrats who are all in favor of adding new gun control laws to state statute balked at the bill and its focus on those who can’t legally carry a firearm in the first place.

“This came up at 3 a.m.,” said Rep. Thomas West, a Democrat who lamented a lack of Republican outreach or time for meaningful analysis of the idea. “From a Republican party that’s loosening all the gun laws and constantly messaging [for more] guns.”

House Democrats have pushed anti-gun violence measures, but even more modest ideas like safe gun storage requirements go nowhere. The Democratic opposition to Koehler’s late-night amendment emerged when Rep. Juanita Brent, a Cleveland representative who chairs the all-Democratic Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, forced an unsuccessful vote to shelve the idea.

Soon, Cleveland area Democratic Rep. Monique Smith called the bill a “fake, veiled attempt to make it look like we’re doing something about gun violence.” She called the legislation “discriminatory” and lamented the chamber’s repeated failure to take up other gun safety laws.

Rep. Latyna Humphrey, a Columbus Democrat and OLBC member, said if the law isn’t working as is, just adding more penalties won’t help.

“We need to talk about why people are getting guns, how can we prevent people from having guns, and how we can keep our communities safer,” she said.

Well, given that a large percentage of guns possessed by convicted felons have been obtained through theft or the black market, just adding more gun control laws isn’t going to help either. Many criminals are already breaking the law simply to acquire a firearm, but Humphrey other members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus objected to what they believe would be the disproportionate impact of the increased sentences for repeat offenders.

Democratic Rep. Casey Weinstein, who is white, voted against the amendment, saying in an interview he deferred to the OLBC, who felt Black Ohioans would be targeted by the narrow policy. Rep. Beth Liston, a Columbus Democrat, voted for the proposal but shared some concerns about its racial equity. She said open questions remain as to whether penalties actually deter gun violence, or whether this idea would fuel inequalities in the criminal justice system.

She didn’t think the idea was sufficiently vetted to get enough Democrats on board, but saw it as a good faith effort to reduce gun violence, however limited.

“If people are genuinely working to decrease gun violence, we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of good,” she said. “I definitely think that the current political environment right not is not one that’s supportive of any gun safety legislation.”

Now, it has to be noted that it ultimately wasn’t Democratic opposition that killed this amendment. Republicans have a solid majority in the state House as well, but many of them were also opposed to the plan and the amendment ended up failing by a vote of 37-48. It’s perhaps even more surprising that a measure billed as getting tough on crime without impacting law-abiding citizens couldn’t get the support of a majority of GOP House members, but maybe Liston is right that the current political climate in Ohio isn’t conducive to anything having to do with firearms unless it’s securing or strengthening the Second Amendment rights of residents.

Could a similarly strange political coalition also derail gun control legislation in other states? We’ll be exploring that question on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co; taking a look at how the debate over HB 5855 in Illinois is also sparking some opposition from surprising quarters and why some progressives are crying foul over the proposed gun ban, “red flag” expansion, and raising the age to possess a firearm from 18 to 21.