and Joe Hallett
The Columbus Dispatch
WASHINGTON - Sen. Rob Portman’s vote opposing a bipartisan amendment to expand background checks for gun purchases drew him his first opponent for 2016 – a state senator who said Portman’s vote reflected a lack of “courage.”
State Rep. Bob Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat and 26-year member of the state legislature, said he would run against Portman because of that vote, vowing to be a “hair shirt” for Portman because of his vote.
Calling Portman “a pawn of the NRA,” Hagan accused Portman of turning his back on 90 percent of Ohioans who support gun sale background checks and “on those 20 children who were killed and the parents of those kids” who were killed in the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.
Hagan said he would hold Portman “partly responsible” henceforth “for someone who has a gun and kills a kid and did not go through a background.”
Portman Wednesday voted against an amendment sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have required background checks for all commercial purchases of guns. The amendment would have expanded background checks to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales, but would’ve exempted most sales between family members and friends.
It fell six votes short of the 60 necessary to be included in the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, voted for the amendment.
Portman voted for a Republican alternative that would increase money for prosecution of gun crime and also include provisions aimed at ramping up school safety and focusing on mental health. The bill would not expand the gun show requirement, but would instead focus on improving the availability of current background check records. That measure also failed, 52-48 – eight shorts fewer than the 60 needed to be included in the bill.
Portman said he believed the Manchin-Toomey bill included “several provisions that would make it more difficult for law-abiding Ohio citizens to exercise their constitutionally protected rights.”
He said he was concerned the amendment “criminalizes the actions of law-abiding citizens” who want to sell guns, and said if a person advertised a gun on Facebook, “you’re subject to this.” He said the exemptions “were written in a way that was not clear.”
Portman, who said he met with some of the Newtown families in the days before the vote, said the amendment would not have prevented the Dec.14 mass shooting.
“Frankly, it wouldn’t have made a difference in Newtown,” he said.
But that was no comfort to Erica Lafferty, who lost her mother, Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, in the Newtown shootings. Many senators, she said, told her that background checks would not have stopped her mother from being killed.
“It’s not going to bring my mom back. I get that,” she said. “But background checks might make sure another 27 year old doesn’t have to get married in two months without a mom.”
A March 1 survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that 90 percent of Ohio voters, including 86 percent of voters in households where there is a gun, favored background checks on all gun purchases.
Hagan, 64, vowed to shadow Portman around the state and hold him accountable for the gun vote. He said he is not caught up in “the emotion of the moment” and is serious about running against Portman, even if he can’t keep up with the GOP senator’s fundraising prowess.
“It’s not so much as important to raise the money as it is about raising hell and that’s what I intend to do with this guy,” Hagan said.
While survivors – who packed the gallery on the day of the vote – lambasted Portman and those who voted against the amendment, Jimmy Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association said Portman’s vote “solidifies the base that he has.”
“He is pro-gun,” he said. “People know that and understand that.”
He said the Manchin-Toomey amendment “went way beyond” reasonable background checks, and would have led to universal gun registration. He said he doubted Brown – who was re-elected last year – would face many repercussions for his vote in support of the amendment because his re-election is five and a half years away.
“Why on earth would we put up a whole lot of obstacles and barriers for people who are not part of the problem,” he said. “It’s a distraction, it’s not solving the problem.”
Portman, meanwhile, denied that his vote was influenced by the National Rifle Association.
“For me this isn’t about politics, this is about principle,” he said.