Gov. Mike DeWine decides against 'red flag' law, proposes optional private sale background checks
COLUMBUS - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine won't ask Ohio's Republican-controlled Legislature for a "red flag" law or mandatory background checks on private gun sales.
Those were ideas the GOP governor proposed two months ago, days after a mass shooting in Dayton that left 10 dead and 27 people injured.
But on Monday, he retreated from those proposals, opting instead for legislation he thinks Ohio lawmakers and Second Amendment advocates might support – or at least not tank immediately.
"This is something that we believe can pass, will pass and will make a big difference," DeWine said.
Not red flag
Instead of a red flag or extreme risk protection order law that would remove guns from people deemed dangerous, DeWine proposed expanding the state's current "pink slip" system, which places mentally ill Ohioans in hospitals for up to 72 hours.
Under DeWine's proposed changes, those dealing with chronic alcoholism or drug dependency could be "pink-slipped" too.
Then, after a hearing in probate court, a judge or magistrate could determine that the person should be separated from their firearms. The person could give guns to someone who doesn't live with him or her, sell them or give them to law enforcement.
One concern: Ohio's hospitals are already strapped for money and space. In some cases, people sent to the hospital with a pink slip are released within hours. Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, has a bill to free up some space currently used by non-violent offenders.
And Ohio would be locking up its residents instead of their guns.
"It actually is more extreme, frankly, than a red flag law," Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said. "They're taking the person away for 72 hours rather than just taking the gun."
But Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who helped craft the gun legislation, said a red flag law was unworkable because taking away someone's guns immediately violated their due process rights and waiting for a hearing could endanger police and victims.
"Removing the gun does not mean you’ve helped the person or kept others safe," Husted said.
An optional background check
In August, DeWine asked for background checks on all gun sales – closing the "loophole" for private sales – except sales between family members and in a few other scenarios. DeWine voted for background checks on all sales at gun shows while in Congress.
Instead, DeWine proposed increasing penalties for those who sell guns to people banned by law from having them. He also wants to make it easier to prosecute the sellers – changing the legal standard from selling the gun "recklessly" to "negligently."
Private sellers could ask the buyer to provide a "seller protection certificate" from the sheriff's office. The local police would run a background check on the buyer to ensure he or she is legally permitted to purchase a gun.
Whaley said Ohioans want universal background checks. In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 90 percent of Ohio voters said they supported background checks for all gun buyers. And 87 percent of gun owners agreed.
If DeWine and lawmakers don't act, a group called Ohioans for Gun Safety wants to force lawmakers to consider universal background checks with a citizen-initiated law or a vote in 2020.
“I know this bill does not go far enough to end gun violence in our communities, but this is an important start," Whaley said.
What else is in it?
DeWine's bill will be sponsored by Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, who faces a competitive race in suburban Cleveland in 2020.
Other changes include:
- creating one place for local courts and police to submit names of people banned from having guns.
- allowing judges to impose longer sentences for people who use a gun during another crime.
- increasing the penalty for having a gun when you are legally banned from possessing one.
- increasing the penalty for selling or providing guns to a minor.
- Increasing the penalty for purchasing a gun for someone banned from having one. This is called a straw purchase.
Will DeWine's plan pass?
DeWine said he made these changes because he wanted a bill that could pass Ohio's GOP-controlled Legislature.
But it's unclear how the legislation will be received by Speaker Larry Householder and Senate President Larry Obhof, who both have A+ ratings from the NRA.
Householder, through a spokeswoman, said the Ohio House was already working on a bill, introduced by two freshmen Republicans, to address guns and mental health.
Top House Democrat, Emilia Sykes, said significant gun reform had little chance in that political environment.
What's the reaction?
Sykes said DeWine's plan fell desperately short of the comprehensive reforms needed to keep Ohioans safe.
“When the people told the governor to do something, they didn’t mean to do just anything," she said in a statement.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the plan "does not meet the moment and appears to have been designed solely to provide political cover for the governor and his allies – all of whom are apparently more fearful of gun extremist backlash than their constituents' safety."
Buckeye Firearms Association said it would carefully review the plan. Executive director Dean Rieck cheered the death of the red flag proposal, calling it "unconstitutional" and an "infringement on rights."