Remember the swaggering ad Larry Householder aired last year? He enters in hunting gear, rifle slung over his shoulder. Within 30 seconds, he takes out a television set carrying the message of his critics.
The Glenford Republican and now House speaker boasts about having “the highest NRA rating in Ohio’s history.” He warns about “anti-Trump gun grabbers” and “the kind of swamp politics that you and I aim to end.” That’s pretty cheeky from a guy who thrives like few others in the swampland of the Statehouse. At the end, he lets his opponents know “they’re in for a fight — because from where I come from we stick by our guns.”
Did the speaker stick by his guns last week?
That was one impression he left in telling reporters “it’s going to be very, very difficult” to advance the gun safety proposals put forward by Mike DeWine in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Dayton earlier this month. The speaker appeared especially resistant to the governor’s call for expanded background checks on gun sales and protection orders allowing the removal of guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Householder rounded up the usual reasons. He talked about repairing the current background check system. That’s a good idea, the filing of information often tardy and incomplete. Such improvement hardly addresses the roughly one-fifth of gun sales that go unchecked.
The speaker cited a recent episode in Youngstown, the FBI arresting a man accused of threatening to attack a local Jewish community center. “The system worked,” he declared. What the governor proposes, and other states have adopted, is an additional layer of protection, family members and law enforcement officers in position to see something and do something, the courts weighing evidence to ensure the guns remain out of reach until the threat of harm passes.
Householder expressed concern about the timing of the protection orders, in particular, the requirement for a hearing within three days. “To me, that’s giving someone a heads up to do bad things,” he said. The gap is problematic. The governor sees other laws designed to protect the public serving a complementary role.
This Householder criticism drips of disingenuousness. The three days are the result of the governor and the lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, negotiating to achieve an approach that enough gun rights advocates, and lawmakers, see as providing adequate due process. Why not close the gap, as Indiana does, removing the guns before holding a court hearing? Might the speaker be the first to howl about trampling rights?
Philip Bump of the Washington Post reported last week that the paper’s analysis of the aftermath of high-profile mass shootings shows that broad interest in addressing the problem fades in three weeks. Husted had as much in mind when he told reporters the week after the Dayton killings, and the governor unveiling his 17-point response, “What we don’t want to happen is for these folks to be forgotten. … We want to draw attention to the need for the legislature to act.”
At that point, the lieutenant governor talked about the proposals having “a very good chance of passing and becoming law and, ultimately, making our communities safer.” Now? After Householder shared his reservations, the governor described the effort as “a work in progress.”
DeWine added, “Ohio is poised … to do something that I don’t think any other state has done.” He means find a middle way on protection orders, gun rights supporters willing to strike a balance to enhance public safety. That will take all the negotiating skill Edward Kennedy once saluted by bellowing at the sight of DeWine: “Sweet talker!” Husted certainly has credibility on gun rights. The two also have leverage, and not just in the bipartisanship emerging since Dayton, state Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican, joining Democrats in sponsoring gun safety bills.
The Republican majorities want to further ease regulations on carrying concealed weapons. The governor could make a veto stick until lawmakers approve his package.
Ultimately, though, there is the obstacle of Larry Householder. Yet didn’t he win the race for speaker by reaching across the aisle, the House version of the state budget reflecting as much? There’s a way to back the governor and stick by your guns.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editorial page editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.