Ohio Republicans again faced with calls to enact gun reforms

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine delivers a statement with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, left, and First Lady Fran DeWine, right, following the Dayton Mass Shooting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Facing pressure to take action after the latest mass shooting in the U.S., DeWine urged the GOP-led state Legislature Tuesday to pass laws requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales and allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats. (Joshua A. Bickel /The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Prompted to act by the bloodshed in Dayton, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine proposed a package of measures Tuesday that he says will address mass shootings, declaring, “We can come together to do these things to save lives.”

Yet members of DeWine’s own party have repeatedly blocked gun-control measures in the Legislature, leaving the fate of his proposals uncertain. Even the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, could not move Ohio Republicans to act on most elements of a gun-control package proposed last year by then-Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican.

Republican lawmakers sought to expand gun-owner protections in a bill Kasich ultimately vetoed.

DeWine’s proposals include requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales in Ohio, allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats, increasing community support to identify mental health risks, expanding use of the state’s school safety tip line and beefing up social media monitoring.

“We know there’s going to be some violence; it’s the world we live in,” the governor said. “But I can tell you this: If we do these things, it will matter. If we do these things, it will make us safer.”

DeWine invited some Ohio gun-rights advocates to his news conference, while gun-control advocates stood outside in the hall. That led some to wonder how tough any of the proposals ultimately will be.

“He takes money from the NRA, and he’s in there talking about gun control when he knows darn well it’s never going to pass,” said Kelly Weber, 40, an elementary school teacher from Gahanna, a Columbus suburb. “So he’s doing it to appease people. He doesn’t care about gun safety.”

While serving in Congress, DeWine often sided with gun-control groups on such issues as background checks and certain gun ownership restrictions. But the National Rifle Association endorsed and contributed to him in last year’s governor’s race.

It’s unclear whether any of DeWine’s proposed changes would have done anything to prevent the Dayton shooting, which left nine dead and 37 injured. Betts had no apparent criminal record as an adult, and police said there was nothing in his background that would have prevented him from buying a gun.

For the reforms to work, mental health concerns would have to be reported by parents, classmates, educators or law enforcement, then authorities would need to do something with that information, DeWine said.

His package also does not address some of the more restrictive laws adopted in other states, such as banning assault-style weapons or limiting the size of ammunition magazines. Police say the shooter in Dayton was equipped with an AR-15 style gun and a 100-round magazine.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper urged the governor and Republican lawmakers to work with Democrats so any gun control package has bipartisan support. Democrats also noted that a red flag bill already had been introduced this year in the Legislature — by a Democrat. The bill’s author, state Sen. Sandra Williams, wrote to the chamber’s Republican leader after the Dayton shooting asking for action on her legislation.

“Ohio Democrats have been pushing gun violence prevention laws for years, while Republican politicians in Columbus have worked overtime not just to stop them all, but to move in the opposite direction, including allowing guns everywhere from bars to day cares,” Pepper said in a statement Tuesday.

In the year following the February 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, so-called “red flag” laws have grown as a tool being used by states to reduce suicides and homicides. In general, they make it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence against others. At least nine states have passed such laws and others, including Pennsylvania, are debating them.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Kasich said DeWine’s legislative package closely mirrors his own and that his failure to get his passed does not make DeWine’s attempt a hollow promise.

“This is more than lip service,” he said.

The former congressman and two-time presidential candidate says navigating contentious policy issues can take time as the public becomes increasingly versed in a topic and pressure rises.

“We plowed a lot of ground on it, so if Mike DeWine can get it done I’d be happy,” Kasich said. “Now with Dayton, this really puts the heat on the Legislature, and I’m really optimistic and hopeful that this can happen.”

Senate President Larry Obhof slipped quietly into DeWine’s news conference Tuesday and, later in the day, his spokesman said the Republican leader would start “thorough and deliberative consideration” right away.

In Dayton, police have said 24-year-old Connor Betts was wearing a mask and body armor when he opened fire just after 1 a.m. Sunday in a popular entertainment district. The attack and another mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, this past weekend left a combined 31 people dead and more than 50 injured in less than 24 hours.

Despite the fact Betts carried an assault-style rifle and may have had has many as 250 rounds of ammunition on him, DeWine said proposing an assault weapons ban would be politically futile in Ohio.

Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said gun-owner groups don’t believe such laws work.

“You want to know how many people somebody’s going to kill? Time is what matters,” Irvine said. “You tell me how long you’re going to let somebody stand in a room with innocent people and killing them before we stop them, and we’ll tell you about how many he’s going to kill.”

Dayton police estimate they shot and killed Betts within 30 seconds.

Irvine, who was among those invited to DeWine’s news conference, said the governor’s proposals are welcome, including one that would add mental health records to the state’s background check system.

“We’re all on the same page. Nobody likes what happened. Nobody likes the violence in our inner cities,” he told reporters after the news conference. “What can we do about it, respecting the rights of the citizens, and make it work? And I believe the governor has shown not just today but through his life, that’s what he wants to do. He wants to help.”

An Associated Press review of all firearms-related legislation passed last year, encompassing the first full state legislative sessions since Parkland and the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, in Las Vegas, showed a decidedly mixed record.

Gun control bills passed in a number of states, but 2018 was not the national game-changer gun-control advocates had hoped it could be, falling back to largely predictable and partisan patterns.

DeWine said he hoped involving 2nd Amendment supporters in the negotiations would help move his proposal through the Legislature.

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Associated Press writer Kantele Franko contributed to this report.

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