DeWine’s anti-gun violence bill faces perilous deadline

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on under a content-sharing agreement.

With less than a month in the legislature, Governor Mike DeWine's response to the 2019 Dayton mass shooting, which killed nine people and injured 27 others, could be all but doomed.

The last hearing on Senate Law 221 in the Senate Government's Supervisory and Reform Committee took place on Thursday exactly a year ago. The legislative period ends on December 31st.

Committee chairman, Senator Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., Estimated in an interview Wednesday that it would be a "toss of the coin" whether the bill would get a committee vote, but it would require some major revision first.

"We haven't been able to bring together a language that everyone can agree on," he said.

Senator Matt Dolan of R-Chagrin Falls, who sponsored DeWine's "Strong Ohio" bill, admitted Wednesday that the legislation as a whole is likely dead.

"In its entirety? Maybe," he said, "but there are parts and packages that we can pull out to get something done."

The legislation would increase penalties for criminals convicted of new gun crimes. Increase in penalties for knowingly making a weapon available to minors or persons who are prohibited by law from possessing a weapon; enable a voluntary background check system for the sale of private weapons; and expand the amount of information that law enforcement and court officials must bring into a federal background check system.

It would also augment a current legal mechanism that would allow a judge to issue a “safety protection order” to a person with drug, alcohol or other mental health problems upon request. The order would allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate that person's firearms.

"It prevents gun violence, it doesn't prevent anyone from owning a gun," Dolan said. "It prevents someone who is likely because a court and a doctor have said that they will harm themselves or others from having that person not have a weapon."

Dolan insisted that it was not "gun control" – a politically toxic phrase in a super-major gun-friendly Republican legislature – but a sensible attempt to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, did not respond directly to the plan for the bill on Wednesday, but described it as "problematic" as a package.

He didn't answer when asked about extended private arms sales or security protection regulations.

"I will speak to Members about this as we are having these broader discussions, but I think many of these proposals faced an uphill battle in the legislature," he said.

The Buckeye Firearms Association – the local gun lobby – immediately spoke out against the bill last year. The group's legal analysis argues that the voluntary background check becomes "a de facto mandate" and the new penalties for gun crimes committed by those whose possession is prohibited by law are "grossly inappropriate".

At its bi-weekly coronavirus press conferences as a platform, DeWine has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass the bill, which it describes as a balance between protecting guns from those who shouldn't have them and respecting gun owners' rights under the Second Amendment .

His fellow Republicans in the legislature, however, have signaled an intention to move in the opposite direction.

Later on Wednesday afternoon, the Coley committee held its first hearing on Senate Bill 383, the latest version of a stand your ground bill that would extend the legal right to shoot to kill in perceived self-defense.

Under current law, Ohioans out in public have a duty to withdraw before reacting to a perceived threat with violence. SB 383 would remove this “obligation to withdraw” at any place that a person lawfully occupies.

It is planned that a House Committee will adopt another draft law on the obligation to withdraw on Thursday morning.

When the new session starts next year, Dolan would have to reintroduce the bill, which is what he intends to do.

Dayton Democratic Mayor Nan Whaley served as America's second site of mass arms violence within 24 hours in August 2019.

She was standing with DeWine and Dolan when they announced SB 221 and expressed no surprise that the chances of becoming law are dwindling. She criticized the "extreme, broken legislature" for evading weapon restrictions after an armed attack.

"It was a pretty watered-down bill at first," said Whaley. "The fact that lawmakers aren't really interested in or doing anything about mass shootings is disappointing."

Dayton, along with Columbus, accused the state government in a lawsuit last month of "persistent and dangerous failure" to report criminal convictions to the federal background control system and left the door open for criminals to obtain firearms.

Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesperson, said the government will continue to advocate the General Ohio package and work with the General Assembly.

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