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Can Ohio Advocates Find Any Common Ground On Gun Laws?

Members of the group, "Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America" gathered at the Statehouse.
Jo Ingles
Ohio Public Radio
Members of the group, "Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America" gathered at the Statehouse.

As America grappled with another mass shooting on Tuesday, Ohio lawmakers debated the latest bill to expand gun owner rights. The usual arguments were made by both sides, but there was talk of possibly finding middle ground on the issue in the wake of comments by Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The latest bill to expand gun rights would allow most Ohioans to carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without permits or safety training.

It would also make Ohio a "Stand Your Ground" state, meaning prosecutors would have to disprove a claim of self-defense. Under current Ohio law, people who claim they acted in self-defense face the burden of proof.

Inside a Senate committee hearing room, Jim Irvine, president of the gun rights organization Buckeye Firearms Association, testified for the bill, saying Ohio is an outlier when it comes to gun laws.

“Every attorney I know that deals with self-defense and this stuff agrees Ohio’s law is different than the rest of the states," Irvine said. "Ohio’s law is an embarrassment to our state. It needs to be fixed.”

As Irvine tells lawmakers why they should pass the bill, a group of women wearing matching red T-shirts with the slogan, “Moms Demand Action,” sit quietly, shaking their heads in disagreement. Michele Mueller of Cincinnati is with that group.

“It just upends the traditional self-defense, the laws that have been working in Ohio, shifts the whole burden of proof to the prosecutor,” Mueller said.

The Kasich Effect

This is the first hearing Ohio lawmakers have had on this particular bill, and both sides say they will be trying to educate lawmakers about it. But it's happening amid increased debate, in Ohio and across the nation, about how to balance gun owner rights with the public health issue created by easier access to guns.

Gov. John Kasich recently wrote an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, saying he believes there could be common ground between the two sides. In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Kasich said:

“But, look, here's what I'm trying to do. Ohio is a place where people want to solve problems. They're willing to listen to one another," Kasich said. "So what I want to do is I want to get a group of reasonable people, pro-gun people and those who favor limits on gun ownership, and I want to put them in a room and see if we can find some common ground.”

During his seven years in office, Kasich has signed several laws expanding gun rights, including a measure last year allowing day cares and college campuses to permit people to carry concealed weapons. But back at the Statehouse, Mueller says her group is embracing Kasich’s latest message.

“We want to work with him too," she said. "We were glad to hear that he believes there is common ground. Not only that, we are going to ask him to reject and oppose these bills.”

Common ground

Irvine says there is common ground to be found here, but it isn’t about guns.

“What there is agreement on is we don’t like crimes. We don’t like rape. We don’t like murder. We don’t like a five-year-old kid getting hold of a gun and shooting his brother or sister,” Irvine said.

Mueller says her group doesn’t oppose gun ownership.

“We have gun owners in Moms Demand Action. What we believe is you can respect the second amendment but with rights comes responsibilities,” she said.

Mueller said this latest gun bill Irvine is backing is irresponsible and dangerous. Irvine said it’s a matter of allowing Ohioans the opportunity to use and carry their weapons so they can be responsible for their own safety.

“I want the victim to win the fight with the criminal and I think there’s almost universal agreement on that issue," he said. "Now the question is, what law gets us there?”

It’s not so simple to answer that question. In his latest interviews and op-ed, Kasich didn’t propose a fix either.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.