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2019 Year In Review - Dayton Shooting Shifts Gun Debate In Statehouse

Dan Konik
2019 Year In Review

For most of 2019, a lot of talk about guns focused on bills that would lift restrictions until the deadly mass shooting in Dayton turned the tables.

The year started with the legislature and Gov. Mike DeWine showing an interest in moving two hot-button issues, "Stand Your Ground" which lifts restrictions on using lethal force in self-defense and a version of the so-called "Red Flag Law" which expands the ability for courts to confiscate weapons.

For the latter, Republican Senate President Larry Obhof said it was something he'd be willing to look into as long as it was constitutional. At the end of last December he said the "red flag" proposal from then-Gov. John Kasich did not allow for due process.

"I would say us not doing that is not necessarily a no forever on the issue it's that we weren't satisfied with where this particular proposal was and it might be open to be looked at in the future," Obhof says.

Though DeWine briefly mentioned looking into a red flag proposal after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the issue went silent for the first half of the year. But what did see movement was a House bill that implemented so-called “constitutional carry” bill which allows people to carry  concealed weapons without permits and mandated training.

But opponents, such as Democratic Representative Fred Strahorn, said this bill would get rid of  common sense policies.

"I think not requiring a permit and training makes everyone less safe, including the gun owner," says Strahorn.

That bill and "Stand Your Ground" legislation seemed to be gaining momentum until August 4, when a gunman opened fire in a busy entertainment district of Dayton, killing nine people.

DeWine attended a memorial service that same day, but his comments were interrupted by the crowd which spontaneously broke out into a chant of "Do Something."

Two days later, DeWine talked about what he described as a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence, saying "Some chanted 'Do Something' and they were absolutely right."

His so-called STRONG Ohio plan wasn't unveiled until October, and didn't include the mandatory background checks he'd suggested right after the Dayton shooting. The plan has 17 different initiatives, including ways of expanding background checks and keeping firearms away from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

It's been criticized by gun control groups for stopping short of universal background checks and expanded confiscation laws.

But Republican Senator Matt Dolan says it's something that will be effective.

"If we are going to stop simply because it does not have everything you want, and therefore nothing is better than something, we will fail the people of Ohio," Dolan says.

The bill was introduced in the Senate, where it was expected to get a better reception than in the House. Republican House Speaker Larry Householder has signaled that a gun regulation bill would run into challenges in his chamber, where around a dozen members are likely to vote against any gun control regulations.

"Anytime you talk about someone's right to defend themselves or to limit their constitutional right, we're going to become very concerned about that and we're gonna make certain that anything that goes through a committee process is one that's going to be well vetted out," Householder says.

Lawmakers are still working on that and the other big topic going into 2019, "Stand Your Ground." There's now a bill in the House and the Senate, that Senate bill has received three hearings so far.

Sponsoring Republican Senator Terry Johnson says it keeps the main prongs of self-defense: that an aggressor must display "means, intent, and opportunity" to do harm, before someone takes action to protect themselves.

"If someone attacks you and they're going to try to kill you and you make a reasonable assumption that that person's trying to kill you then you already have the rights to self-defense so that's already in law. What I'm saying is, you don't also have to run away," Johnson says.

But opponents argue that this can lead to more gun violence and points to studies that show gun violence has gone up in some states that have the law in the books.

At the end of 2019,  the Constitutional Carry bill passed out of one House committee in June but it was sent to another House committee where it has sat in limbo ever since. The legislature seems poised to continue holding hearings on "Stand Your Ground" and the "Strong Ohio" bill, which DeWine says he plans to make this one of his top legislative priorities for 2020.

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