Ohio Legislature Gun Control Debate Reveals Poor Priorities

 Just over three months ago, a mass shooting at Ned Peppers — a local bar in Dayton, OH — left 27 injured, 17 from gunshot wounds. Ultimately, nine people died as a result of the shooting on Aug. 4, 2019.

When the shooter fired into a large crowd at the bar, he was carrying an automatic rifle that held 100 rounds, which he had previously ordered online from a Texas distributor. He also had numerous ammunition magazines with him, along with body armor, a mask, and hearing protection. Until the time of the shooting, he had been hiding the gun and the ammunition magazines at a friend’s apartment. Aside from a few traffic violations, Betts had no prior criminal record — although he had allegedly been suspended from school for having a hit list in 2012, an official investigation by the police found. 

Despite the events of Aug. 4, — the shooting of 17 people and the death of nine — the Ohio General Assembly has made no effort to enact gun restrictions. Before the Dayton shooting, former Governor John Kasich, a Republican, supported numerous attempts to pass some sort of gun reform bill, all of which were repeatedly blocked by Republicans in the state legislature. Kasich’s gun reform proposals were a direct response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, in 2018. Yet Republicans still refused to budge on the issue. Now, Republican Governor Mike DeWine is facing a similar challenge following the recent Dayton shooting. 

Since September, the Ohio legislature has held debates on seven different potential gun control bills. However, only three are still under consideration. Of these three, two are co-sponsored by Democrat State Senator Cecil Thomas and Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner, and the other is sponsored by Republican State Senator Matt Dolan. The bills that are co-sponsored by Thomas and Lehner are not expected to pass, while Dolan’s bill seems more likely to pass. 

The two bills sponsored by Thomas and Lehner are, unsurprisingly, much more progressive than Dolan’s. The two bills together would ban bump stocks — a contraption that allows guns to fire shots much more rapidly — and make background checks for purchases at gun shows a requirement. These two bills in particular have been met with hard opposition from the Republican members of the state legislature, despite Lehner’s urging to view them as “pro-life” bills. Ultimately, these bills are being dubbed by Republican Ohio legislators as “too progressive,” even though the regulations that these bills aim to enact are still quite moderate in comparison to gun restrictions in other states. 

Alternatively, Dolan’s bill would only require state-run voluntary background checks for private firearm deals, and would include an expansion of pink slip laws. The pink slip law means that when someone is found to be a danger to themselves or to others, they will be held in a mental health facility for 72 hours for evaluation, and then the courts decide if and how long the individual should stay at the facility. Currently, background checks are not required for firearm sales in Ohio, and Ohio has one of the least restrictive gun laws in the country. 

Ironically, none of these three bills would have prevented the Dayton shooting. Betts almost certainly would have passed a state-run background check, as he did not have a criminal record aside from a few minor traffic violations. The shooter’s profile is a textbook case of why the gun control policies introduced by these three bills are simply not enough to prevent mass shootings. Even though the shooter had been previously investigated by the police for having a list of fellow students he wanted to kill, and for telling classmates that he was planning a school shooting, his criminal record was spotless. Betts — and other potential perpetrators like him — would have slipped through the cracks of background checks. 

Despite the comparatively minor impact that any of these three bills would have on the ability of residents to buy guns, many Ohio Republicans have strongly opposed all three. Pro-gun groups in Ohio have written countless messages to Governor DeWine about the issue. 

“You see, if Husted and DeWine have their way, they’ll never stop until our ability to defend ourselves and our loved ones from killers and tyrants is outlawed and our firearms confiscated,” stated a particularly notable one.

Somehow, even a horrific event like the Dayton shooting has not been enough to strike a chord of fear — or even empathy — in many Ohio Republicans, especially those who hold office in the state legislature. While DeWine claims to support Dolan’s gun reform bill and other policy packages, he is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association and accepts generous campaign contributions from the association. It seems that DeWine’s support of the bill is simple lip service, a hollow promise in order to maintain popularity among moderate voters and to assure political damage control following the Dayton shooting. 

The Ohio state legislature’s priorities are disturbingly skewed. It seems that the state government would rather continue vigorously pursuing anti-abortion legislation and Juul bans than pass legislation that would actually protect the lives of the children that Republican officeholders claim to care about. 

What do these priorities say about the Ohio representatives? Do they really care about the lives of Ohio citizens? In Dayton, nine lives were taken in under 30 seconds. Three months later, and Ohio state legislators are still questioning whether passing meaningful legislation to stop more shootings from happening again in the future is worth it — a resistance that flies in the face of supposed pro-life ideals. 

Republicans in the Ohio state legislature must shift their focus from trying to control people’s decisions — through recent policies such as anti-abortion legislation and Juul bans — and focus on how they can better protect their citizens’ lives from the very real threats of gun violence, opioid overdoses, and the like. Ohio is at the center of many of these issues, and yet the citizens of Ohio have seenvery little effort from state government officials to effectively address these life-threatening issues. The hypocrisy of some Republicans in Ohio is showing — if they continue to take no action, they continue to risk the lives of Ohioans every day.