Will Larry Obhof and Larry Householder “do something”?
That question concerning the Ohio Senate president and House speaker arises from the proposals put forward by Mike DeWine on Tuesday in the wake of the mass shooting in Dayton, a gunman with a powerful rifle killing nine people and wounding many in a matter of seconds. In unveiling his initiatives, the governor noted some in the crowd at a prayer vigil on Sunday evening chanting “do something” about gun violence, the Dayton slaughter coming just hours after a gunman in El Paso, Texas, attacked at a Walmart, leaving 22 dead.
“They were right,” the governor added. “It is time to do something, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Ohioans have been here before. State lawmakers pushed aside sensible gun regulations proposed last year by John Kasich as he approached the end of his time as governor. Kasich acted in response to the mass shootings in Las Vegas, 58 dead, and Parkland, Fla., 17 dead. He watched in frustration as lawmakers spent more time weighing steps to ease the modest or weak gun restrictions now in place.
Will DeWine prove more persuasive? He is right to try. The governor outlined more than a dozen proposals. At the top is a “red flag” measure. It would permit family members, loved ones or law enforcement authorities to seek a court order removing temporarily the guns of those deemed a threat to themselves or others. This can be accomplished without harming individual gun rights, a judge ruling based on evidence and arguments from both sides.
Such safety protection orders strike an appropriate balance by adding to the equation the public interest, not to mention the wishes of family members and loved ones who may see and fear a potential for suicide, the leading cause of gun deaths.
The governor has called for background checks on all gun sales in the state, except for gifts among family members. This, again, goes to the logical concept of doing more to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Today, roughly one-fifth of gun sales proceed without a check. It also is true that background checks are only as effective as the information available. Ohio and other states must do a better job ensuring they promptly enter pertinent data into the system.
Among other proposals, the governor wants to do more to address mental health, especially for young people. That includes improved early intervention and working within communities to increase the understanding of risk factors. In that way, educators, parents and friends are positioned to see, say and do. Yet, it is important to stress that the country’s gun violence problem isn’t primarily about mental health. Experts point out that one in five people face a mental illness. That applies globally. Only Americans experience gun violence at such severe levels.
As the governor noted, urban gun violence accounts for a large share of gun deaths, some 14,000 a year nationally. Thus, he wants to see increased penalties for gun-related charges, for instance, a violent felon in possession of a firearm. He proposes to crack down on “straw” purchases, when buying a gun for someone disqualified from owning one.
Ohio House Democrats and other proponents of stronger gun regulations easily can cite additional measures, such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases or requiring safe storage. For now, it is important to get a start, in view of the resistance long demonstrated by the Republican majorities at the Statehouse. That is what the governor has outlined — to do something about enhancing public safety. Will the Senate president and House speaker get on board?