Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. (Karl Kuntz/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)
Photo: Washington Bureau
Photo: Washington Bureau

Gov. DeWine calls for lawmakers to pass red-flag law, stronger background checks to fight gun violence

Dayton Mayor Whaley calls DeWine’s proposals a ‘step in the right direction.’

The governor’s action comes just two days after a gunman killed nine and injured more than 30 in Dayton’s Oregon District,

>> New details emerge about victims in Oregon District shooting

At a vigil in the Oregon District Sunday night, the crowd chanted at the governor to “do something.” He said that’s what he is going to do.

“I understand that anger,” DeWine said. “Some chanted ‘do something’ and they were absolutely right. We must do something and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

Red-flag law

The governor proposed a new version of a “red flag law” that the legislature has considered in the past. Red flag laws, also known as extreme protection orders, allow police or close family members to get a court order to remove firearms from someone who appears to be a danger to themselves or others.

DeWine’s proposed red flag law would protect “due process,” he said, by requiring a judicial hearing to be held within three days of a person’s firearms temporarily being confiscated.

If a judge determines a person is a threat to himself or herself, the gun owner could be ordered to get mental health care before their firearms are returned to them.

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The protection order could be extended for up to six months if necessary, DeWine said. The gun owner in question would also have the opportunity to apply to retrieve their firearms every three months, but would need to provide evidence that they no longer pose a threat, DeWine said.

“We have to empower people to get help for family or loved ones who may be a danger to themselves or a danger to others,” DeWine said.

Strengthening background checks and soft targets

DeWine called for stronger background checks across Ohio. He said checks should be performed for any gun purchase in the state, with the exception of gifts for a family member and other instances which he did not detail.

Some say there has got to be a better way to protect people from gun violence, especially when the person responsible for that violence has mental health issues.

DeWine also wants to strengthen “soft targets” like the Oregon District, houses of worship and nonprofits. The operating budget provides nearly $9 million to help “harden” those soft targets.

The governor also proposed improving access to mental health treatment by freeing up psychiatric care across the state.

Hospitals lack beds, DeWine said, because they are filled up with court-ordered people. Nearly 80% of people in those hospitals are non-violent, he said.

DeWine asked the general assembly to pass a bill that would establish an outpatient procedure to free up more beds for people in need of psychiatric care.

Monitoring social media, other services

In the new state budget, $675 million in “wrap-around services” for schools to design individualized programs with local mental health providers and social service organizations to address social and emotional challenges of students, according to the governor’s office. The Ohio Department of Medicaid is investing $15 million in “telehealth” mental health services to students to reach children in more rural areas.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety will increase its monitoring of social media. It’s important, DeWine said, for individuals who post threats to be flagged before they commit a crime. He noted the Dayton shooter “clearly showed anti-social behaviors.”

DeWine wants to improve a school violence tip line for schools. The number 844-723-3764. Schools across the state, DeWine said are implementing a safety program to help their students and staff identify potential threats.

“We’re asking people to step up,” DeWine said. “If you see something (or) hear something, do something.”

Increasing penalties

People who break the law when it comes to buying, selling or owning firearms should face stiffer penalties, DeWine said.

The crime of having a weapon while under a disability should become a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison on a first offense and for subsequent offenses it should be a first-degree felony punishable by three to 11 years in prison, DeWine said.

People who commit a felony while in possession of a firearm would face an additional one to three-year prison sentence under DeWine’s proposal. DeWine asked the legislature to pass a law that would require a three to five year prison sentence for those who brandish a gun while committing a felony.

The act of “straw purchasing” guns in order to give them to another individual is already illegal under Ohio and federal law. However, DeWine is called on the Ohio House and Senate to increase the penalty for a straw purchase to a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison.

DeWine recommended that a person who possesses a gun they know was illegally obtained should be punished in the same manner as a person who bought it, by increasing the penalty to a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison. DeWine also asked the general assembly to boost the penalty for improperly providing a firearm to a minor to a third-degree felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

Lawmakers and advocates react

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she thought the governor’s proposals are a “step in the right direction.

“Last year, the Ohio Legislature was debating extreme proposals about arming preschool teachers. Today, we’re finally talking about common-sense ideas like universal background checks. I appreciate Gov. DeWine listening to the people of Dayton, and following his prayers for our community with action. I hope the legislature will follow his example,” Whaley said.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said she was “encouraged,” by the long list of proposals DeWine released but noted that they still have a “long way to go” before becoming law.

“I think the community should be encouraged that he’s working on it,” Lehner said. “Hopefully we’re going to see them pass.”

Lehner has expressed support for the creation of red flag laws in the Buckeye State. But, she said she’s a little concerned about the number of hearings and steps that would be required by DeWine’s proposed protection orders.

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said he needed to know more details before he could say whether he would support each of DeWine’s proposals. Any red flag law would need to have some form of due process upfront instead of after a person’s firearms have been temporarily confiscated.

Rather than a specific focus on guns, Antani said he thinks any future legislation should focus more on removing violent individuals from society or getting them the help they need. The time for the legislature to start considering DeWine’s proposals is now, Antani said.

“I believe that the general assembly should come back immediately to begin discussing this,” Antani said. “There’s no reason to take a break when we came back for other bills this summer.”

State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, said it’s important to identify “violently and severely mentally ill” individuals early, and allow them due process before restricting that individual’s ability to buy a gun.

Butler declined to comment on which of DeWine’s suggestions he agreed or disagreed with, or whether he thought DeWine’s proposals would be passed through the Ohio Legislature, but he said he felt it was the duty of the Legislature to protect Ohioans and prevent further tragedies.

“One area is not enough. We need to look at all areas and come up with a comprehensive solutions,” Butler said. “I do think there needs to be some significant reforms passed.”

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, said that while he needs more time to look into the details of DeWine’s proposals, the Legislature should look into all proposals with the intent of stopping future mass shootings.

Huffman said that he, Senate President Larry Obhoff and the rest of the Senate is dedicated to looking into every option.

“The vast majority of this in intertwined into mental illness,” Huffman added. “I don’t think anybody would dispute that anybody who would do these mass killings has a mental illness.”

Input from gun-rights supporters

When developing the policy ideas, DeWine said he and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted worked closely with the gun owner community to make sure that they felt the proposals didn’t infringe on due process or second amendment rights.

Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association said he’s not worried about anything the governor proposed Tuesday, though he said his organization will need to take a closer look a the details.

“Nobody likes what happened…What can we do about it (while) respecting the rights of the citizens and making it work?” Irvine said. “I believe the governor has shown, not just today but through his life that’s what he wants to do.”

People in the crowd at the vigil in the Oregon District urged Governor DeWine to "Do something!" as he spoke.

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