Akron Beacon Journal: DeWine finds a fair balance

Akron Beacon Journal

John Kasich didn’t warm many hearts at the Statehouse recently. The former governor addressed the proposals of his successor, Mike DeWine, for expanded background checks on gun sales and “safety protection orders” to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Kasich took credit. He told a Toledo Blade reporter, “We plowed the ground on that, and they ought to move quickly.”

Recall Kasich last year calling for passage of a half-dozen sensible gun regulations, crafted in consultation with a group of former state lawmakers, all gun rights proponents. The package went nowhere, in part, because the legislative majorities grew tired of their fellow Republican. Jon Husted, the lieutenant governor, sized up the strain, telling cleveland.com that if DeWine advanced something similar to the Kasich plan, it would be “dead on arrival.”

Husted especially had in mind the governor’s proposed safety protection orders, or “red flag” legislation, allowing household members or law enforcement authorities to seek the temporary removal of guns from those viewed as a threat to themselves or others. This is a responsible step in support of public safety.

So it was good news recently to read about Larry Obhof, the Ohio Senate president, telling the Columbus Dispatch the DeWine protection order plan was not dead on arrival.

Advocates may see the case for such orders as obvious. Yet the reality is this is a political negotiation. A proposal for safety protection orders has little chance of gaining approval without the support of gun rights backers and organizations.

The Buckeye Firearms Association and others want to ensure there is adequate due process in light of individual gun rights. That is what DeWine and Husted have achieved in a way that should earn the support of bipartisan majorities.

Once a motion is filed seeking removal, a court hearing must be held within three days, the judge looking for “clear and convincing evidence” that a person poses a danger. Both sides would present their cases. If an order follows removing the guns, another hearing would be held in 14 days to weigh extending the order for six months. An extension would include a mental health assessment and a program of treatment.

An order could be extended further in intervals of six months, involving hearings and assessments. After three months, those under order could ask the court to return their guns if proved no longer a danger to themselves or others.

The proposal strikes an appropriate balance between individual rights and public safety. If there is a risk in waiting three days for a hearing, the governor points to a complementary law on the books, the police, a judge or mental health professional with the authority to involuntarily commit a person deemed a danger.

A similar balance exists in the governor’s call for background checks on all gun sales in the state. This is, again, about doing more to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Currently, around one-fifth of purchases go unchecked, and the checks made may be flawed because of inadequate reporting of information, something John Kasich attempted to improve through an executive order.

There is an element of politics here, too. Mike DeWine sees expanded background checks as the right thing to do. He also recognizes that a statewide initiative on background checks seems likely for next year. It will pass, if the polls are accurate about Ohioans showing strong support. The governor is asking lawmakers: Do you want to act, or wait for voters?


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