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Ohio's Legislature Spent 2018 Fighting With Kasich Over Gun Control

In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, an assortment of firearms are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield, Ill.
Elaine Thompson
Associated Press

This was the year Ohio saw a dramatic tone shift when it comes to gun policies – at least when it came to Gov. John Kasich.

For seven years, the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Kasich worked in tandem to enact many pro-gun bills. The governor ran for re-election in 2014 with the NRA’s endorsement.

He signed several pieces of legislation to extend rights for concealed carry permit holders, and as of last year, measures like the self-defense “Stand Your Ground” bill seemed to have momentum.

But in February, all that changed when a 19-year-old gunman used an AR-15 rifle to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Just days after the mass shooting, Kasich seemed to change course when it came to guns. The pro-Second Amendment page on his website was wiped out, just hours after he appeared on national news shows.

And the “Stand Your Ground” bill, which had a hearing in the Ohio legislature just one day before the Parkland shooting, went dark for two months.

Democratic state Rep. David Leland saw it as a time to shift focus on other things like education, jobs and healthcare.

“All of the issues that we need to be dealing with as a Legislature, I don’t think we need eight different pieces of legislation dealing with expanding gun rights in the state of Ohio,” Leland said in February.

Less than a month after Parkland, Kasich released a list of what he called “common sense” gun regulations. That list included closing gaps on the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, cracking down on “straw man” purchases, banning armor-piercing ammo, outlawing bump stocks, and – perhaps the most controversial piece – a “red flag law” that allows courts to take guns away from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others.

“This is something they have to work on,” Kasich said in March. “I don’t intend to browbeat them or… I’m going to encourage them every step of the way.”

The national rhetoric for more gun control was still building. Even then-House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger seemed open to talking about possible regulations, but said that it’s difficult to legislate personal behavior.

“And somebody wanting to do something bad is always going to find an avenue to be able to do that,” Rosenberger said. “What we need to do is of course make sure we’re doing whatever it is possible to make it tough for those that want to do something bad into the future.”

But after another month, that eagerness to find common ground waned. The “Stand Your Ground” bill returned in committee, while Kasich’s proposals never got a hearing in the House.

Instead, Republicans focused on further expanding gun rights. There were more than 100 references to firearms in the list of bill titles introduced by the General Assembly this session.

That included HB 233, which allowed someone to carry a concealed weapon into a gun-free zone as long as they left without incident if caught. HB 201 would allow someone to carry a concealed weapon without getting a permit and training.

Some proposals did seek to limit guns, including HB 151, which would close the “gun show loophole” by requiring criminal background checks before selling a gun, and SB 260, which would ban “assault weapons.”

None of those bills passed.

A few others did though, including HB 79, a measure to allow tactical medical professionals, such as EMTs that work with SWAT teams, to carry firearms while on duty. Kasich signed that bill.

Another bill, SB 81, allowed veterans to get their concealed carry permit without going through civilian training. Kasich allowed that bill to go into law without his signature.

But the focus consistently centered on “Stand Your Ground,” which would remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. In December, the Senate finally passed the measure but took the “Stand Your Ground” language out. It still shifts the burden of proof in self-defense cases to the prosecution – Ohio was the only state in the country that placed the burden on the defense.

The bill also forbids local municipalities from passing any gun control measures.

Chris Dorr with Ohio Gun Owners said the new language did not go far enough to appease his members.

“In states where the burden of proof is already on the prosecution to disprove a self-defense claim, gun owners already sit in jail, so this idea that we’ve switched that over is a huge get for gun owners, it’s not,” Dorr said.

But Kasich vetoed the bill, citing his objections to other changes in self-defense laws and the General Assembly’s unwillingness to move his “red flag law.”

“Why would I sign a bill that gives more power to the gun advocates?” Kasich said.

Legislators returned after Christmas to overturn Kasich’s veto.

Next year, the Statehouse could see yet another change in the tide when Governor-elect Mike DeWine takes office. He supports “Stand Your Ground," and says he also sees merit in “red flag laws” if there’s due process.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.