COLUMBUS, Ohio — Pointing to Michigan as Exhibit A, Republican gun-rights advocates in Ohio on introduced bills last week that would prohibit state and local governments from infringing on gun access and use in the heat of an emergency.
While not an issue in Ohio during the coronavirus pandemic, the bills’ sponsors, state Rep. Scott Wiggam (R., Wooster) and state Sen. Tim Schaffer (R., Lancaster), said the state shouldn’t wait until the next emergency occurs under a different governor.
“[Michigan] Gov. Gretchen Whitmer restricted the ability of people to buy firearms as part of her COVID response,” said Chris Lee, lobbyist for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “And later over the summer she was quoted as saying she would happily do it again.
“When a state like Michigan, with a long history of support for firearm ownership, has shifted to allow unprecedented restrictions on the Second Amendment, it really drives home the point that this legislation is badly needed in Ohio and obviously in Michigan as well,” he said.
The National Rifle Association and Buckeye Firearms Association were also on hand to support the bill’s passage.
The Senate last session passed a bill to prohibit the forced closing of federally licensed gun dealers during the pandemic, but it stalled in the House of Representatives. The new bills would prohibit government restrictions on possession, transportation, carrying, training, and concealed-carry licensing during declared emergencies.
They come as Gov. Mike DeWine struggles to convince fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to enact what he characterizes as “common-sense” gun reforms that he has proposed in the wake of the 2019 mass shooting in a downtown Dayton entertainment district that killed nine people.
But the governor did sign a variation on a “stand your ground” law late last year allowing someone to respond with deadly force without having a legal duty to try to retreat from a confrontation.
Twenty-four states have enacted some sort of limit on the ability of governments to restrict gun access and use during an emergency, whether during the current pandemic or following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The most bothersome thing is they keep preempting any government except themselves,” said Toby Hoover, founder and board member of Toledo-based Ohioans Against Gun Violence. “They want to preempt the federal government when it comes to sanctuary cities and local governments on every single thing they want to do, especially with firearms.
“The fact is they want to make firearms essential when there were so many other things that ought to be essential that were not,” she said.
She said Republican lawmakers have no intention of working with DeWine when it comes to gun reforms.
“It all boils down to easy access,” she said. “When something goes wrong, you can blame easy access, and you can blame the adults for that, not the kids.”
When DeWine issued orders more than a year ago to shutter many businesses and generally require Ohioans to stay home as much as possible, the order did not apply to gun shops. In fact, gun sales climbed early in the pandemic.
Dealers were not deemed “essential,” however, under Ms. Whitmer’s orders in Ohio’s northern neighbor.
“The COVID crisis has revealed that local, state, and federal governments have sweeping restrictive powers during a declared emergency,” Wiggam said. “…While Ohio is fortunate to have a governor and legislature that did not use these powers to infringe on Second Amendment rights, it is critical to our future to define the limits of governments’ powers to prevent abuses that occur in other states that could easily happen here in the state of Ohio.”