Columbus Dispatch: Puppet masters pulling lawmakers strings when it comes to guns in Ohio

“Cities fighting gun violence have found foes in state leaders who do not seem to understand or care about the concerns of people in big urban centers,” the Dispatch Editorial Board writes.

A common notion is that we are a very divided state in an even more divided nation.

Yet an astounding 85% of Ohioans — conservatives and gun owners included — support expanding background checks for 18- to 21-year-old gun buyers, according to the fall 2022 Baldwin Wallace University Ohio Pulse Poll.

A third support “red flag” laws which would allow the police to temporarily remove firearms from owners believed to pose a threat. The poll found that 79% are in favor of raising the minimum age to buy an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle from 18 to age 21.

As the Baldwin Wallace poll and the ones that preceded it show, Ohioans are on common ground when it comes to certain sensible gun restrictions.

You would not know that from the illogical and dangerous gun regulations that have emerged from our Statehouse in recent years.

The gun lobbyists behind the curtain

The disconnect between what Ohioans want and what lawmakers give us makes sense when you understand who is pulling the strings in this state.

As the latest installment of the Columbus Dispatch series “Under Fire” reveals and as in the “Wizard of Oz,” an unseen force is calling the shots from behind the curtain in Ohio, and that force doesn’t represent the will of the people.

Ohio lawmakers are more interested in pleasing powerful and persuasive pro-gun groups like Buckeye Firearms Association and Ohio Gun Owners than they are the Ohioans they swore an oath to serve.

Due to the influence of gun lobbyists, Ohio — a diverse state with large urban centers, suburbs and small rural communities — now ranks only after Texas and Georgia among the nation’s 10 most populous states on Gun & Ammo magazine’s score card of Best States for Gun Owners.

The Buckeye State ranked 22 overall.

What Ohioans get

The shift away from what the public overwhelmingly wants has ramped up in the years since Ohio’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history where nine people were killed in Dayton’s Oregon District on Aug. 4, 2019.

— Against the objection of a list of groups that included Ohio prosecutors, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and a coalition of Ohio mayors, members of the state’s uber gerrymandered legislature approved, and Gov. Mike DeWine signed the state’s “stand your ground” law in 2021.

— Last year, a bill dropping the training hours a teacher needs to be armed in school from 728 hours to about 24 became law.

— A law that eliminated the requirement for concealed carry gun permits for Ohio residents 21 and older also became effective in 2022.

The puppet masters were pleased.

“This is a day that will go down in history…,” Buckeye Firearms Association Director Dean Rieck said in a statement released at the time. “This is a great moment for Ohio and for those who wish to more fully exercise their Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

That same year, a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with relaxed carry and conceal laws not only experience a 10% increase in firearm assaults per 100,000 people, but also have a nearly 13% increase in police shootings.

The push to weaken Ohio’s gun laws continues.

Senate Bill 293 would amend the Ohio Revised Code to prohibit requiring fees or firearms liability insurance to possess firearms.

Introduced earlier this year and entitled the “Enact the Second Amendment Preservation Act,” House Bill 51 would block Ohio’s local governments and police agencies from enforcing some federal firearm acts, laws or executive orders.

A judge in March found a similar Missouri law unconstitutional after the federal government sued.

“A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Division, said as part of a press release about that law. “This act makes enforcement of federal firearms laws difficult and strains the important law enforcement partnerships that help keep violent criminals off the street.”

Battle of Ohio

Lawmakers from Ohio’s largest cities – Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland – don’t have much power at the Statehouse. Republicans from smaller cities and towns hold most of the top leadership positions in both chambers of the Statehouse.

Cities fighting gun violence have found foes in state leaders who do not seem to understand or care about the concerns of people in big urban centers.

Local lawmakers are punching up at lobbyists and state elected officials when it comes to fighting gun violence.

Last month, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David M. Gormley halted enforcement of the gun-related ordinances Columbus City Council passed in December that includes a ban on certain firearm magazines of 30 or more bullets and requirements for safe gun storage.

The judge’s ruling follows a battle between Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost over the gun restrictions and a state law barring municipal gun regulations — Ohio Revised Code Section 9.68, the state’s so-called “Right to bear arms — challenge to law.”

The city had seemingly won until Gormley’s ruling on a challenge from the right-leaning Buckeye Institute stopped the gun ordinance in its tracks. A tiny portion of Columbus is in Delaware County.

Klein’s office file a new lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court Thursday against the state.

“State officials continue to intentionally make it harder for police to do their job and for the city to take the actions we know will promote responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence in our neighborhoods,” he said.

It’s an inconceivable fight because at least part of what Columbus wants is in line with what the vast majority of Ohioans and Americans desire.

Just two weeks before the 2019 shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, a survey by APM Research Lab — the research and analysis arm of American Public Media — found that nearly eight in 10 Americans support requiring guns be stored with a lock in place.

Mandatory locked gun storage was desired regardless of political affiliation.

Nearly seven in 10 Republicans supported locked gun mandates, compared with nearly eight in 10 independents and nearly nine in 10 Democrats, APM found.

Two-thirds of gun owners nationwide supported mandated locked gun storage. There are many things that divide Ohioans. Stronger, sensible gun laws are not among them.

Gun lobbyists shouldn’t be the ones calling the shots in Ohio. We need lawmakers brave enough to protect and stand up for us no matter where we live.

It is time to remind legislators that they work for Ohioans and not the lobbyists behind the curtain pulling their strings.