The debate about “red-flag” legislation has begun in the Ohio General Assembly.
Just over a month after a gunman in Dayton killed 9 people and left 27 injured, touching off proposals from both Republicans and Democrats to curb gun violence, the first gun bill on the docket for state lawmakers following a summer recess had its first committee hearing on Tuesday.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, would give common pleas courts the power to issue “extreme risk protection orders” against individuals found to be a danger to themselves or others. Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Republican from the Dayton suburb of Kettering, said shortly after the mass shooting that she would become a primary sponsor of the measure.
Williams testified Tuesday about the bill in the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee.
That so-called “red-flag” provision is similar to one Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, proposed in his package of proposals to curb gun violence unveiled days the Dayton shooting, with one key difference: “ex parte” orders.
Under Williams’ proposal, a common pleas judge could issue an ex parte order without the gun owner’s knowledge after determining whether the individual is a significant danger of harming themselves or others in the near future. That would allow law enforcement to seize guns, and the person subject to the order would not have the chance to appear at a full hearing for up to 14 days.
At the full hearing, the judge would decide whether to issue an order lasting up to a year.
DeWine’s office has not released legislative language detailing his proposals, but it doesn’t provide for ex parte orders, which gun rights groups have called an affront to due process. In details released to the public, the governor’s office has said that his proposal would require a hearing be held within three days of a request to confiscate the guns. No seizure can take place until after the hearing.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the administration is drafting language and that he does not expect it to be released before the governor returns from a trade mission in Japan on Sunday.
The committee’s chairman Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, said the legislature cannot write a constitutional bill that includes ex parte orders.
“People have a right under the constitution to a firearm for their own protection and security. You can’t just take that away unilaterally,” he said.
Williams said she is open to changes to the bill, including removing the ex parte hearing, as long as that coincides with reducing the waiting period before a full hearing is required.
“I’m in the minority. Whatever I can do to get my bill passed, I’m open to it,” she said. “We want to make sure due process is there. If 14 days is too long, let’s reduce it to three. I’m open to three. I’m open to one if that’s the case. We can get that person off the streets and before a judge.”
Williams’ bill would allow family or household members, law enforcement officers or law enforcement agencies to file petitions for the orders. They must make their case in a sworn affidavit. Knowingly filing for an order with false information or as a means to harass an individual would be a third-degree misdemeanor.
Several factors could be considered as evidence that a protection order should be granted, including recent threats, previous protection orders, a domestic violence conviction and prior arrests for felonies or violent crimes, among others.
A person who is found to have a gun while they are under an order would be guilty of a third-degree misdemeanor for their first offense and a fifth-degree felony for all subsequent offenses, under the bill.
If an ex parte order is issued, law enforcement officers serving the order must request the immediate surrender of the individual’s guns along with any concealed carry permit.
Groups that represent Ohio law enforcement officers said Tuesday that they have not yet formed a position on the various red-flag proposals. But they downplayed any potential problems with serving orders to confiscate guns when the individual knows they are coming.
“We have that situation now with protection orders. Judges can make those orders now. You can take the necessary precautions for that sort of thing,” said Mike Weinman, government affairs director for the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. “Sometimes it might turn into a barricade. Sometimes not.”
Law enforcement officials would follow the same protocol in serving such an order as they would any response to an individual with a gun, said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association.
“Whether they know it or not, if they have a firearm and we respond to that there’s always a heightened alert on for our guys,” he said. “Whether they know it or not if we have a dispatch to go to a call with a man with a gun or woman with a gun it’s always a heightened experience. Whether there’s a hearing or not there’s not any difference.
“Whether we give them three-day notice, we know it’s a bad situation.”
Dispatch reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.