Dems should support better-than-nothing gun bill


Gov. Mike DeWine’s “STRONG Ohio” gun-control plan isn’t all we hoped it would be. It isn’t all that most Ohioans want. But if it were to become law, it would be the one and only step in the right direction for Ohio on this issue in many, many years. For that reason, Democrats who want to see more reasonable controls on lethal weapons should back it.

We hope that the questions and challenges Democrats posed at the bill’s first hearing Tuesday were a way of getting their points across and not an indication that they’ll vote against the bill.

That’s because even though Democrats are outnumbered 24-9 in the Ohio Senate, so many Republicans are so fanatically opposed to any gun control whatsoever that Democrat votes may be required to pass DeWine’s bill. For Democrats to stand in the way would be a shame and a missed opportunity.

Senate Bill 221 doesn’t provide the two main things DeWine promised shortly after nine people were killed in the August mass shooting in Dayton — universal background checks and a “red flag” law allowing guns to be seized from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others — but it’s not nothing.

DeWine’s team tried to overcome standard Republican opposition by tweaking the concepts. While background checks for private sales would remain voluntary under the bill, it would create incentives for sellers to have them done: It would increase the penalty for selling a gun to someone who is legally barred from owning it, but sellers whose buyers passed a background check would be protected from prosecution, even if a problem with the buyer emerged later.

The workaround on a red-flag provision is stranger: Instead of allowing courts to order the seizure of guns from a dangerous person, the bill would make it easier to, in effect, seize the person. Current state law on involuntary commitments applies only in cases of mental illness; DeWine’s law would expand it to situations involving alcohol or drug addiction.

If a qualified medical professional judged an addicted person to be dangerous, then the court could order commitment with seizure of the person’s guns.

It’s odd to think that a conservative such as DeWine would expect other conservatives to have less objection to involuntary commitment of people than to temporarily seizing their guns, but that is the nature of Second Amendment absolutism.

The bill also would give courts and police officers better information by requiring more-thorough and timelier reporting of legal actions that affect whether a person can have a gun, such as protection orders, findings that a person is incompetent to stand trial and “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdicts.

It would increase penalties for several gun-related offenses, including having a weapon while legally prohibited to, improperly giving a gun to a minor and using or brandishing a gun in a crime.

These changes would represent progress. If Democrats have the opportunity to make them happen, they shouldn’t pass it up just because the progress isn’t as much as they’d like.

All Ohioans who want to see more significant gun reform have to face the political fact that it isn’t going to happen until they demand it via the voting booth. Until more Democrats and moderate Republicans show up and elect more reasonable candidates, little will change at the Statehouse.

— Akron Beacon Journal; Online: https://bit.ly/2X4x7pJ