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Mass shooting survivor calls on lawmakers to pass bill that changes gun background checks

guns in a case at Columbus gun store
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Guns in a case at Columbus store

Whitney Austin, a mass shooting survivor who was hit 12 times during a rampage in Cincinnati, appeared in front of an Ohio Senate committee to share her story and testify for a bill that would create more gun purchasing regulations.

Austin was among the victims injured when a gunman opened fire in downtown Cincinnati on September 6, 2018. Three people were killed during the attack.

Now Austin is supporting a bill, SB357, that she believes would go a long way in preventing dangerous people from owning a firearm.

“It's very hard to hear my story and dismiss it. So, no matter how difficult it is for me to share it, I'm going to keep showing up and sharing it," said Austin.

The bill would add a new factor — or what’s known as a disability — to background checks for gun purchases. That check would need to find out if the buyer was deemed to be suicidal or homicidal by a behavior risk assessment.

Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said those are factors are entered into databases following a behavioral risk assessment. Dolan said his bill can stop future gun violence.

“We just heard from somebody who survived a mass shooting. That’s powerful. And then you think, it could’ve been prevented. It should not have happened in the first place," Dolan said. "Under current law you can get a gun, but under this law he would not have been able to get a gun."

The bill would also create a mechanism for private sellers to require a potential buyer to get a background check through law enforcement, then return with what would be known as a seller’s protection certificate. The legislation would also increase penalties for straw purchases — when a gun is purchased for someone else — and put more money into mental health worker training and regional health crisis centers.

Austin started the group Whitney/Strong, which promotes what she calls “common sense” changes to laws in order to prevent gun violence.

“I did not believe that I would be involved in an incident of gun violence until it happened to me. And so, they are not safe sitting from their seat. You all are not safe. No one is safe,” Austin told lawmakers.

Anti-gun regulation groups are against the bill. Those organizations will likely get an opportunity to speak out in opposition to the bill during the next committee hearing, which Dolan said is scheduled for next week.

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