COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine’s “red flag” law proposal has near-majority support in the Ohio Senate, but it’s receiving a lukewarm reception in the House, a poll by six Ohio news organizations found.
The survey suggests that, in the wake of the Dayton mass shooting earlier this month, the GOP-controlled Ohio legislature could be convinced to pass its first “gun control” bill in years.
But, the biggest hurdle will be clearing the Ohio House of Representatives.
“Do something” has become a rallying cry in Dayton since hundreds chanted it at DeWine during a vigil for the nine victims hours after the Aug. 4 shooting. Two days later, DeWine, a Republican, responded with a multi-point plan to reduce gun violence and bolster access to mental health services.
Many legislators, mostly Republicans, said they need to study the issue further before backing proposed solutions.
One of DeWine’s proposals was to establish a “safety protection order” that could be granted by a court to remove guns from individuals deemed an “imminent” risk to themselves or others because of a mental health issue, alcoholism, drug dependency or criminal history.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have some sort of “red flag” or “extreme risk” law on the books, but they differ in who is eligible, how protective orders are granted and how they are enforced. President Donald Trump has said he supports such laws and U.S. Senate Republicans plan to discuss a red flag bill in the coming months.
Every member of the Ohio legislature was contacted by reporters at the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News and Toledo Blade.
Lawmakers were asked whether they support DeWine’s “red flag” proposal and what they think is the most critical action the legislature can take to reduce mass shootings.
The poll received responses from 61 of 99 House members and 27 of 33 Senate members. All but one Democrat said they supported DeWine’s proposal. Among Republicans, 10 said yes — though some said more tweaks are necessary — and 41 were either unsure or wanted to know more specifics about the legislation before weighing in.
Only one lawmaker – Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg – gave a hard “no.” “The proposal lacks necessary due process,” Antani said.
DeWine has taken care to differentiate his proposal from his predecessor’s. Former Gov. John Kasich proposed a “red flag” law that would have allowed guns to be removed without a court hearing in some cases.
DeWine is proposing that no guns be seized until after an initial court hearing is held within three days of the request.
Both GOP legislative leaders — Senate President Larry Obhof of Medina and House Speaker Larry Householder of Glenford — were noncommittal in their responses.
“I believe that Gov. DeWine’s proposal takes a more thorough and deliberate approach to preserving individuals’ rights,” Obhof said. “That being said, it is important to remember that this is the beginning of the legislative process, not the end. Most members have heard broad-based ideas but have not yet seen bill language.”
Last week, Obhof told The Dispatch that DeWine’s proposal resolved the Senate’s due-process concerns over gun seizures under a “red-flag” law, saying “it’s not dead on arrival.”
That small difference between Kasich and DeWine’s proposals made a big difference for several Republican legislators who responded to the news organizations’ poll. Republicans who said yes also said the law needs to protect individuals’ Second Amendment rights and provide due process.
“I know there were problems with the Kasich language,” said Stephanie Kunze, a Hilliard Republican who sponsored Kasich’s thwarted red-flag bill last year. “Obviously, I do think there needs to be due process.”
She also wants to require mental health assessments, and treatment, for teenagers who pose a threat to school safety.
Democrats in both chambers have offered their own versions of “red-flag” laws, both before and after the shooting in Dayton, that would allow for “ex parte” orders that a judge could issue after a secret hearing, allowing law enforcement to seize guns first, and then requiring a hearing that includes the accused later.
“I think it’s a first step. I think it has the potential to save lives; particularly when people want to do self-inflicted harm,” Rep. C. Allison Russo, an Upper Arlington Democrat who has introduced her own red-flag legislation, said of DeWine’s proposal.
Rep. Rick Carfagna, a Republican from Ostrander in Delaware County, said he is unsure whether he will vote for DeWine’s proposal. Ohio law already provides for civil protection orders and allows law enforcement and some medical professional to “pink slip” people, requiring emergency involuntary hospitalization of an individual for mental health treatment for up to 72 hours.
“Because I have yet to see any draft legislation outlining this proposal, I can’t render an opinion based only on a broad concept. I would also want to review the proposal within the context of all of the other current tools available to address people posing a threat to themselves or those around them,” he wrote in an email.
When asked an open-ended question about what is the most critical action the Ohio Legislature can take next to reduce mass shootings, lawmakers were divided on party lines.
Republicans’ most frequent response was improvements to mental health treatment. Democrats pointed to background checks on more gun sales, as proposed by DeWine on gun-show sales and individual-to-individual transactions.
“I’m not a big believer that gun control necessarily works,” said Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Republican from Newark who nevertheless is leaning “yes” on a “red-flag” law.
Hottinger wants expanded mental health assessments and treatment, particularly for juveniles who threaten school violence.
“I don’t think it’s a single issue problem,” said Rep. Jeff LaRe, a Republican from Violet Township. “I think it’s going to take attention on mental health treatment (and) securing public spaces.”
Asked what the legislature should do to curb the number of mass shootings, Rep. Kristin Boggs, a Democrat from Columbus, said “anything.” The state should close “loopholes” that allow guns to be sold at gun shows without a background check and allow local governments to adopt their own gun regulations.
“I think most importantly it’s imperative for us to deal with this swiftly and quickly,” she said. “There are some good proposals on the table, but I have some concerns that there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency to do something soon enough.”
Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, also suggested focusing on mental health services, with special attention given to children.
“Too many children in our juvenile justice system are punished instead of offered help and mental health treatment,” Yuko said. “We need more focus on intervention from an early age.”
Other highlights from lawmakers’ responses:
• Several Democrats in the Ohio House wantto ban or limit assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Few members of the Ohio Senate — in either party — suggested those steps.
• Several House Democrats suggested safe-gun storage laws and a couple wanted to restore cities’ ability to pass their own gun restrictions.
• A handful of Republican lawmakers said there was little legislators could do to stop gun violence.
Contack Rick Rouan at email@example.com or @RickRouan