Democrats in the Ohio House are all but certain to encounter the same obstacle that faced John Kasich — Republican legislative majorities will little interest in even modest steps aimed at curbing gun violence. Yet it is important that Democrats press the case. In doing so, they remind Ohioans, as the former governor did, that it is possible to strike a sensible balance between individual gun rights and the priority of public safety.
For much of his final year in office, Kasich pushed a set of sensible ideas, reflecting the consensus of gun rights supporters he gathered as advisers. For their part, House Democrats have focused on three proposals.
One would require firearms to be stored securely out of the reach of minors. This seeks to prevent accidental shootings and deaths, especially involving children. It also recognizes that two-thirds of gun-related fatalities are suicides. Make the weapons less accessible, and a suicide is less likely. It also is true that suicide attempts are more successful when a gun is used.
A second proposal seeks to improve background checks by extending the requirement to all gun purchases. The concept, again, is keeping guns out of the wrong hands. As Kasich stressed, and studies have revealed, a significant problem with the check system involves states failing to collect and report complete information. Thus, buyers who pose a risk slip through the cracks.
Finally, House Democrats call for the creation of a “red flag” process that would permit the temporary removal of guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. Florida enacted such a law in the wake of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland last year. Kasich included this idea is his package, and his successor, Mike DeWine, has voiced his support.
DeWine has stressed that such a regimen must protect the due process rights of a gun owner, ensuring that guns are removed with just cause. Gun rights advocates worry that guns would be confiscated too easily. Such an outcome can be avoided by requiring a court hearing, with evidence presented, the gun owner allowed to respond and a judge making the final decision.
The governor has said that negotiations on a bill are continuing. Worth stressing is that in many cases individuals send warning signs of problems ahead, including suicide. A “red flag” law offers a way to respond and save lives, preserving individual gun rights while gaining a measure of protection.
It was hard to miss the contrast last week. As House Democrats unveiled their proposals, the Republican majority pushed its legislation that would allow Ohioans to carry a concealed handgun without the license and training required under the current law. This measure is unnecessary. It doesn’t address or solve a problem. As critics, including county sheriffs and prosecutors, pointed out, the bill heightens the risk of harm. For instance, those carrying a concealed weapon no longer would be required to notify a police officer they encounter.
A gun control specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio noted the annual cost of gun violence, nearly $3 billion in such things as health care, law enforcement, judicial proceedings, employer expenses and lost income. She asked a telling question with rural lawmakers in mind: “Do they honestly believe that gun violence in urban areas doesn’t somehow affect rural constituents?”
Of course, it does. Which gets to the value in House Democrats pushing for a better response. They have the governor at least partly on board. They won’t see the needed bipartisan coalition by biting their tongues. An argument is there to be made about striking an appropriate balance between gun rights and public safety.