In the Republican-dominated state legislature, bills to expand gun owners’ rights usually enjoy prompt attention and quick passage. The most recent example is a measure that would allow Ohio hunters to use silencers, which recently gained approval in a House committee even though the Ohio League of Sportsmen preferred to have the matter handled though the rule-making authority of the state Division of Wildlife.
Meanwhile, even the most basic, common-sense ideas for gun safety languish, testimony to the power of the gun lobby. That has been the fate of a worthy bill introduced more than a year ago by state Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland Democrat. After two hearings, progress stalled.
Patmon’s proposal responds to the grim realities of suicides and accidental shooting incidents involving children in Ohio. Statistics indicate an average of 22 suicides, four gun fatalities and 86 accidental shooting incidents a year involving juveniles. The bill would make it a third-degree misdemeanor to keep an unsecured firearm in one’s home if there is a reasonable chance that a minor could gain access.
Firearms would have to be in safe storage or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock. If a gun owner violates the law and a child causes personal injury or a death with a firearm, the violation would rise to a first-degree felony.
Rather than act according to evidence about preventing suicides and accidental deaths, the legislature puts the gun lobby first. The claim is that gun owners would be in danger because it might take a few seconds to unlock a weapon. The argument is made even though the Patmon legislation makes clear that gun owners still would be able to walk around the house carrying a gun, or have it within arm’s reach.
The silencer bill is being pushed as a way to protect hunters from hearing damage if they choose not to wear noise protection. A test-firing for committee members revealed that current silencers would protect hearing while allowing a loud enough report to provide a warning.
The Ohio League of Sportsmen point to the difficulty in acting through legislation: Rules can be altered quickly in response to changes in technology, while statutes must be amended. Yet lawmakers moved ahead, anyway. Meanwhile, the Patmon bill sits in committee, even though it would help prevent gun deaths.
Such are the misguided priorities in the legislature when it comes to regulating guns. Large Republican majorities in both chambers, joined by Gov. John Kasich, are unwilling to cross the National Rifle Association and others in the gun lobby to enact basic measures designed to make children safer. Lawmakers are showing more concern for the eardrums of a tiny fraction of Ohio hunters. The Buckeye Firearms Association notes that fewer than 1 percent of Ohio hunters would be affected by the silencer bill.