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In 2019, A Mass Shooting Sparked Talk But Little Action On Guns In Ohio

Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.
John Minchillo
Associated Press
Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.

Even after a deadly mass shooting in Dayton appeared to flip the gun conversation in Ohio, 2019 comes to a close with legislators having done little on the issue of gun control.

The year started with the Ohio General Assembly and Gov. Mike DeWine showing an interest in moving two hot-button issues: "Stand Your Ground"—which lifts restrictions on using lethal force in self-defense—and a version of the "red flag law" expanding the ability for courts to confiscate weapons.

For the latter, Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said he'd be willing to look into the issue as long as it was constitutional. But at the end of last December, Obhof said the red flag proposal from then-Gov. John Kasich did not allow for due process.

"I would say us not doing that is not necessarily a 'no' forever on the issue," Obhof said. "It's that we weren't satisfied with where this particular proposal was and it might be open to be looked at in the future."

Though DeWine briefly mentioned a red flag proposal after the October 2018 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the issue went silent for the first half of the year. What did see movement instead was a House bill proposing “constitutional carry," which would allow people to carry concealed weapons without either permits or mandated training.

But opponents, such as state Rep. Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton), said HB178 would get rid of common sense policies.

“I think not requiring a permit and training makes everyone less safe, including the gun owner," Strahorn said in June.

That bill and "Stand Your Ground" legislation seemed to be gaining momentum until the early morning of August 4, when a gunman opened fire in a busy entertainment district of Dayton, killing nine people.

DeWine attended a memorial service that evening but his comments were interrupted by the crowd spontaneously breaking out into a chant of "Do Something."

Two days later, DeWine talked about what he described as a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence.

"Some chanted 'Do Something,' and they were absolutely right," DeWine said.

His so-called "STRONG Ohio" plan wasn't officially unveiled until October, when it featured 17 different initiatives, including ways of expanding voluntary background checks and keeping firearms away from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

But it didn't include the mandatory background checks or expanded confiscation laws he'd suggested right after the Dayton shooting. 

Gun control groups criticized DeWine over those emissions. But state Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), who's sponsoring the Senate bill, says the "STRONG Ohio" bill will be effective nevertheless.

"If we are going to stop simply because it does not have everything you want, and therefore nothing is better than something, we will fail the people of Ohio," Dolan said last month.

The bill was introduced in the Senate, where it was expected to get a better reception than in the House. Republican House Speaker Larry Householder signaled that a gun regulation bill would run into challenges in his chamber, where around a dozen members are likely to vote against any attempt at gun control.

"Anytime you talk about someone's right to defend themselves or to limit their constitutional right, we're going to become very concerned about that and we're gonna make certain that anything that goes through a committee process is one that's going to be well vetted out," Householder said.

Lawmakers are still working through both DeWine's bill and "Stand Your Ground," which the governor says he supports but wants lawmakers to set aside for now. "Stand Your Ground" bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, with the latter receiving three hearings so far.

Sponsor state Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) says his proposal maintains the central prongs of self-defense: that an aggressor must display "means, intent, and opportunity" to do harm, before someone takes action to protect themselves.

"If someone attacks you and they're going to try to kill you and you make a reasonable assumption that that person's trying to kill you, then you already have the rights to self-defense, so that's already in law," Johnson says. "What I'm saying is, you don't also have to run away."

But opponents argue that this can lead to more gun violence, pointing to studies that show gun violence increased in some states with similar laws on the books.

The "constitutional carry" bill passed out of one House committee in June, but was sent to another House committee, where it has sat in limbo ever since.

By the end of 2019, the legislature seemed poised to continue holding hearings on "Stand Your Ground" and the "STRONG Ohio" bill, which DeWine says he plans to make one of his top legislative priorities for 2020.

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.