DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Facing pressure to take action after the latest mass shooting in the U.S., Ohio’s Republican governor urged the GOP-led Legislature on Tuesday to pass laws requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales and allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats.
Gov. Mike DeWine said Ohio needs to do more while balancing people’s rights to own firearms and have due process. On the heels of Sunday’s killing of nine people by a gunman in Dayton’s nightclub district, DeWine outlined a series of actions he wants the Legislature to take up to address mental health and gun violence.
“We can come together to do these things to save lives,” DeWine said.
Protesters once again shouted “do something” — a refrain chanted during Sunday’s vigil honoring the victims — at DeWine at the start of his Tuesday announcement. One person yelled “shame on you” at DeWine while he was answering questions.
His calls for action could be an uphill battle for the Legislature, which has given little consideration this session to those and other gun-safety measures already introduced by Democrats. DeWine’s Republican predecessor, John Kasich), also unsuccessfully pushed for a so-called red flag law on restricting firearms for people considered threats.
DeWine said he has talked with legislative leaders and believes his proposals can pass.
Police say there was nothing in the Dayton shooter’s background to prevent him from buying the firearm used.
Dayton police have said 24-year-old Connor Betts was wearing a mask and body armor when he opened fire with an AR-15 style gun. If all of the magazines he had with him were full, which hasn’t been confirmed, he would have had a maximum of 250 rounds, said Police Chief Richard Biehl.
“To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment is problematic,” Biehl added.
A woman who said she briefly dated Betts earlier this year discussed his “dark thoughts,” including talking about wanting to hurt people, in an online essay. Adelia Johnson, 24, said they met in a college psychology class and bonded over dealing with mental illness, which she said allowed him to open up to her. She said she was in treatment but that Betts “didn’t want to seek help because of the stigma.” He told her he thought he had mental illnesses including bipolar disorder.
“When he started joking about his dark thoughts, I understood,” she wrote. “Dark thoughts for someone with a mental illness are just a symptom that we have to learn how to manage.”
Johnson said on their first date, Betts showed her a video of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. She said Betts had “uncontrollable urges” that she called “red flags,” which eventually led her to call things off in May. When she broke up with him, she said she reached out to his mother to express her concern, but she didn’t elaborate on what they discussed in that conversation.
Two former classmates told The Associated Press that Betts was suspended during their junior year at Bellbrook High School after a hit list was found scrawled in a school bathroom. That followed an earlier suspension after Betts came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault, according to the two classmates, a man and a woman who are both now 24 and spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern they might face harassment.
Others remembered how he tried to intimidate classmates.
“It’s baffling and horrible that somebody who’s been talking for 10 years about wanting to shoot people could easily, so easily, get access to a military grade weapon and that much ammo,” said Hannah Shows, a former high classmate who remembered seeing Betts look at people and imitate shooting at them.
“He was someone who enjoyed making people afraid,” she said.
Former Bellbrook High School classmate Addison Brickler rode the bus with Betts and said he taunted her regularly.
“He was the bully,” Brickler told the AP. “He used to make fun of me on the bus, talk about my weight, make me feel bad about myself. He would laugh and think it was funny, joke about it. We thought it was a normal thing.”
But the seemingly normal heckling turned scary one day when she said two police officers pulled Betts off their bus during her first few weeks of high school. When she arrived home that day, her mom sat her and her brother down to tell her the school principal had called — they had been named on Betts’ “hit list.”
Betts disappeared from the halls of Bellbrook High School. Students were offered counseling, teachers checked on kids, and extra police officers were on hand. Brickler said Betts later returned to the school.
Others that had encounters with Betts, however, painted a different picture.
Brad Howard told reporters in Bellbrook on Sunday that he knew Betts from preschool through their high school graduation.
“Connor Betts that I knew was a nice kid. The Connor Betts that I talked to, I always got along with well,” Howard said.
A database by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University shows that there have been 23 mass killings so far this year, claiming the lives of 131 people. By comparison, 140 people died in mass killings in all of 2018. The database tracks every mass killing in the country dating back to 2006.