Local politicians and those on each side of the gun control issue expect reforms in the wake of the shooting deaths at a Connecticut elementary school.
What the changes will be, though, is unclear.
U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Warrensville Heights, called for gun control reforms on the House floor last week, saying the nation can’t wait for another incident like in Newtown, Conn., or earlier this year in nearby Chardon.
“The issue of eradicating gun violence is ripe, and we must act now,” Fudge, who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, told colleagues. “The first thing we must do is ban assault weapons of all types. Their only purpose is to kill the largest amount of people in the shortest amount of time.”
Fudge, citing news sources, said there have been more than 60 mass murders committed with firearms since 1982 and 19 mass shootings in the past five years.
“It is time for us to have a serious and deliberate conversation about a comprehensive national gun policy that eliminates loopholes and requires uniform background checks,” she said. “Enforcing current laws is not getting the job done.”
President Barack Obama has formed a task force, with Vice President Joe Biden as chair, that will develop a list of proposed reforms by the end of January. Obama urged Congress in a news conference last week to vote “in a timely manner” on gun control measures supported by a majority of Americans, including banning assault weapons and ammunition clips and requiring background checks.
The Beacon Journal attempted to contact both Ohio senators and the four U.S. representatives who represent Summit County to ask them whether they think the Connecticut shootings will spur gun control measures. The response was mixed.
Rep. Tim Ryan, in an interview between House votes, said he thinks Congress will have an “intense conversation” about gun control, mental health and education.
“I definitely think there needs to be a broad discussion about gun safety and the issues around it,” said Ryan, D-Niles. “Also mental health. Also, I think the school curricula and how a kid like this falls through the cracks and becomes so disconnected going through school in America. It’s really sad. It needs to be that kind of comprehensive conversation.”
U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown’s and Rob Portman’s offices emailed responses.
Brown suggested that a bipartisan commission to “examine how to prevent gun violence” is needed, an idea echoed last week in a letter to Obama and congressional leaders from Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and seven other former and current leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“We should also work to reduce the stigma attached to mental-health treatment and to inform parents of mentally ill children that they are not alone,” Brown said. “Finally, I hope responsible gun owners will take steps voluntarily to keep their firearms out of the hands of unstable individuals.”
Portman was less committal, expressing sympathy for the families in Newtown, but never using the words “gun control.”
Fudge’s office forwarded a YouTube video of the comments she made on the House floor and provided a written statement expanding on her remarks.
“We have a very good chance of at least doing what I believe has long been needed, and that is to ban weapons of war that have no place on our streets,” she said in an email. “The moment is now. If we can’t regulate assault-type weapons and high-capacity rounds of ammunition after the school house massacre in Newtown, then we never will.”
Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce, who was elected in November to take over the 14th District seat for retiring Rep. Steve LaTourette, was busy in court with a hearing related to the Chardon shooting from February in which a gunman killed three students at the high school.
“I look forward to learning more about the president’s task force and working together to ensure our children are protected,” Joyce, R-Novelty, said in an emailed statement.
Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, said in a prepared statement that mental health should be a priority.
“As we consider what actions can be taken to prevent incidents like this in the future, it is important to keep in mind that these murders were carried out by a madman, not by our Founding Fathers or our Constitution,” he said. “The common thread between this incident and others like it before is the growing mental-health epidemic that is plaguing our country. How we as a nation identify and treat mental-health conditions must be the top priority as we take action to address this growing threat.
“In regards to our constitutional rights, when acts of violence are carried out in the name of religion, as we witnessed on 9/11, we did not move to erase our First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. The same standard applies to the Second Amendment, and any restrictions on our Second Amendment rights must be narrowly tailored and meet the strictest standard of scrutiny our judiciary can apply.”
Public support needed
Christopher Banks, an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University, thinks a groundswell of public support for gun control reforms will be needed to press Congress to action. Some of this has begun, with groups starting petitions, including on Change.org, and many emailing and calling their congressional representatives.
“This needs to come up from the citizen who expresses a certain amount of passion,” said Banks, a professor at KSU for seven years and a Stow resident. “This is such a tragedy that it might start that. … It’s not going to happen — unless people do it.”
Banks, in a personal capacity, wrote to each of his state and national representatives last week, urging them to support gun control measures. He got back only one response — from Portman, who focused on the need to reduce crime and improve mental health services.
“We must take a comprehensive review of the availability of current mental-health services and examine the important role of government agencies, community groups, and faith-based organizations can play to help provide the care and protection for those in need of services,” Portman wrote.
Banks said he thinks the issue that gets lost in the gun control debate is that this is about public safety.
“This is as much of a public-safety threat than the right to have a gun,” he said. “The representatives don’t engage in this. They represent the people — represent everyone. This includes those who don’t care for guns or [who] feel threatened. Maybe this will start that dialogue again. I hope it does.”
Any effort at gun control might face opposition from the powerful gun lobby, whom Banks called a “major player in the debate.” He said his sense, though, is that the National Rifle Association might be softening its stance from the days of Charlton Heston saying they could pry his gun from his “cold, dead hands.”
On Friday, the NRA called for armed officers to be stationed in schools. The group also blamed video games, movies and music videos for exposing children to a violent culture.
Gun control questioned
Jeff Garvas, president of Ohioans for Concealed Carry and a Summit County resident, questioned what gun control and new laws would accomplish.
“You can’t prevent things by passing more laws,” he said. “If you were able to magically wave a wand and 280-some million firearms in the United States disappeared, the people who wanted to do this would find other ways to do it.”
The public and media also shouldn’t focus on gun control, but on how to train teachers and other school staff to defend themselves before authorities arrive, Garvas said. Even if people don’t want school workers armed with guns because of students being around, there are other nonlethal options, such as chemicals and stun guns, he said.
Garvas said the country has done nothing to tackle the issue of how to stop an individual “in a manner that puts the issue to rest before it gets to the point where he can kill 30 people, let alone one.”
“I think that is where you’re going to see [any weapons in schools] be such a politically incorrect topic that it won’t even be seriously considered,” he concluded.
The idea drew support, however, from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who said last week he backed allowing trained school officials to have access to weapons. He said he thinks such decisions should be left to districts.
The two largest teacher’s unions oppose the idea of arming teachers.
“Guns have no place in our schools. Period,” National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a joint news release. “We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.”