Editorial: Gov. DeWine should not be deferring to lawmakers on Ohio’s gun and school-safety policies


A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Gov. Mike DeWine has seemingly surrendered any control over game-changing school- and gun-safety measures to a General Assembly that couldn’t care less.

DeWine has said, in so many words that, especially as to gun safety, he’ll only fight battles with legislators that he is likely to win. And that, rather than fight his fellow Republicans in the legislature, he’ll sign into law misguided gun-liberalization measures — even those strongly opposed by state law-enforcement groups.

So much for using the governorship as a “bully pulpit” from which to urge the greater good for all the people of Ohio. So much for intellectual and moral leadership on politically tough issues.

Last week, DeWine also applauded the legislature’s passage of House Bill 99, slashing training requirements for armed teachers — despite the evidence of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that even trained police officers will hesitate to confront a better-armed gunman.

After the horrifying May 24 Uvalde massacre of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers, DeWine did act. He did what he did after the horrifying August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton — proposing a package of modest measures that he could accomplish mostly on his own or that a gun-worshipping legislature just might consider.

Some of the gun-reform ideas DeWine offered this year were also among those he’d proposed after the Dayton shooting claimed nine innocent ives. Back then, the General Assembly all but insulted DeWine by refusing to act on his commendable “STRONG Ohio” package of gun-safety measures.

In 2019, then-Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, while arguing for tougher measures, supported DeWine’s efforts. But this year, Whaley, now DeWine’s Democratic opponent for governor, called them “pathetic.”

That’s an overreach. DeWine’s latest proposals contain a number of worthwhile measures on school safety.

But the label could stick to a governor who has rendered himself or been rendered toothless on gun laws by a legislature that seemingly knows no bounds in the reckless gun measures it passes and sends to DeWine’s desk for his meek acquiescence.

In January 2021, DeWine signed into law a “stand your ground” law (Senate Bill 175 of 2019-20) that eliminated any duty to retreat.

Then, earlier this year, DeWine signed the “permit-less” concealed-carry firearms law (Senate Bill 215), which eliminates Ohio’s concealed-carry licensure requirements, and with them, the required training and background checks. When SB 215 takes effect a week from tomorrow, on June 13, it will put Ohio exactly at the bottom of the slippery slope bystanders foresaw when then-Gov. Bob Taft signed Ohio’s original concealed-carry-permit law, in January 2004.

In the wake of the Uvalde massacre, DeWine has proposed a series of constructive if middling steps to protect Ohio pupils and teachers:

• Ohio’s state Public Safety and Education departments will provide “comprehensive, evidence-based behavioral threat assessment training for all Ohio educators.”

• The Ohio School Safety Center will boost the size of its school liaison staff and help schools and police annually review schools’ security and vulnerability.

• Every Ohio school building, public and private, DeWine said, “should meet the best practices for school safety,” including “hardening” school buildings.

He’s also proposed:

• Enhanced criminal penalties for violent crime.

• A legislative mandate “that local court and law enforcement agencies enter all of their warrants and protection orders into the appropriate state and national databases within 48 hours after they are issued.”

Each of the steps DeWine is proposing offers some useful ideas. But it would certainly be fair to term DeWine’s program marginal, given the scope of the problem.

True, it’s an election year, and the General Assembly is hardly prepared to take political risks. The problem is that the next General Assembly, to be elected Nov. 8 from GOP-gerrymandered districts, is hardly likely to be more amenable to gun-safety reforms. Moreover, thanks in part to their generous campaign contributions, Ohio and national gun groups find a lot of doors open to them at the Ohio Statehouse.

Still, in the larger scheme of things, it’s a governor’s responsibility to lead not just public policy but also public opinion. On that front, Mike DeWine seems to have thrown in the towel – to have accepted the Statehouse status quo. That’s not leadership. And on this issue, Ohio needs the leadership only a determined governor can provide.

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 5