Q&A on Gov. DeWine's Safety Initiative
Reactions to Governor DeWine's safety initiative announced at the press conference on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 have been strong and varied.
Many have said he is not going far enough and are calling for sweeping gun control laws in response to the Dayton mass killing, criticizing the Governor for his continued support of pending bills to loosen firearm restrictions. Others have said he is going too far and are upset at his suggestions for protection orders and additional background checks.
We've been talking to the media and our supporters almost nonstop since the press conference and many questions have come up. I'd like to share some of the answers we've been giving.
First, here are the 17 actions the Governor outlined Tuesday. This write-up is from the Governor's office:
- Safety Protection Orders. Governor DeWine is asking the legislature to pass a law to allow courts to issue Safety Protection Orders which would remove firearms from potentially dangerous individuals and get them the mental health treatment they need all while maintaining an individual’s right to due process.
- Increased Access to Inpatient Psychiatric Care. Over the past several years, Ohio’s state psychiatric hospitals have become predominantly used by patients who are court-ordered there for restoration to competency to stand trial. This week 79% of the adults in our state psychiatric hospitals are under court order. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) is working to create a process where courts and community-based providers can work together to restore competency for those to stand trial in an outpatient setting which will free more hospital beds and decrease wait time for admission. The Ohio General Assembly will need to pass legislation to create this community-based misdemeanor competency restoration process.
- Early Intervention. As part of the 2019-2020 biennium operating budget, the state is investing $675 million in wrap-around services for schools to design individualized programs, working with local mental health providers or social service organizations, to address the social and emotional challenges our students face.
- Access to Behavioral Health Services. The Ohio Department of Medicaid is investing $15 million in telehealth mental health services to students, so no matter where a child lives, they have access to high-quality mental health care.
- Risk Factor and Resource Identification. OhioMHAS will be working with communities to increase knowledge of risk factors, help parents identify when their child is showing warning signs of a mental illness. The department will share screening tools with clinicians and help connect community-based services to link parents, families, and schools with proven supports and strategies to manage a child’s wellness over the child’s lifetime.
- Background Checks. Governor DeWine is calling on the Ohio General Assembly to pass a law requiring background checks for all firearms sales in the state of Ohio with certain limited, reasonable exceptions, including gifts between family members.
- Increased Penalties for Felons Who Illegally Possess Firearms. Gun violence occurs in neighborhoods and communities every day across Ohio and the nation. Law enforcement reports that the majority of this violence is perpetrated by a relatively small number of individuals who don’t have the right to possess a gun. Governor DeWine is calling on the General Assembly to increase penalties on felons who illegally possess or use guns.
- Increased Penalties for Violent Felons Who Illegally Possess Firearms. Governor DeWine is calling on the General Assembly to increase penalties for violent felons and other people found with a gun they do not have the legal right to possess. The crime of having a weapon while under a disability is currently a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum of three years in prison. On a first offense, the crime should be a second-degree felony punishable by two-to eight-years in prison, and for subsequent offenses, it should be a first-degree felony punishable by three- to eleven-years incarceration.
- Increased Penalties for People Who Commit Felonies While in Possessing Firearms. This proposal would increase penalties for people who commit felonies with a firearm or who possess a firearm while committing a felony to a mandatory additional one- to three-year sentence.
- Increased Penalties for Brandishing a Gun. The General Assembly should pass a law that increases the penalty for those who commit a felony while brandishing a firearm to a mandatory three- to five-year sentence.
- Increased Penalties for Straw Purchases. So-called “straw” purchases, the act of purchasing guns for or giving guns to another individual are currently illegal under Ohio and federal law. However, this practice is far too common, so Governor DeWine is calling on the General Assembly to increase the penalty for a straw purchase to a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison.
- Increased Penalties for Illegally Obtained Guns. We should increase the penalty for a person who possesses a firearm that they know was obtained through an illegal or fraudulent purchase in order to avoid a federal background check. A person who possesses the gun should be punished in the same manner as a person who bought the firearm, increasing the penalty to a second-degree felony punishable by two- to- eight years in prison.
- Increased Penalties for Those Who Improperly Provide Firearms to Minors. Too many kids are carrying guns on the streets often with tragic consequences. Adults who furnish firearms to minors must be held accountable. Governor DeWine proposes that the General Assembly increase the penalty for improperly providing a firearm to a minor to a third-degree felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
- School Tip Line. The DeWine administration is expanding the state’s school safety tip line, where kids and adults can call or text anonymously to 844-723-3764 with tips about potential school violence.
- Social Media Monitoring. In a 24-7 world of social media, threats can arise at any time. The Hub at the Ohio Department of Public Safety is expanding their ability to monitor and track potential threats on social media and will share that information with local school and local law enforcement.
- Community Safety. The operating budget provides nearly $9 million to help harden soft targets like non-profits and religious organizations to make their facilities more secure.
- School Safety and Intervention Programs. Working closely with Sandy Hook Promise, Ohio’s schools are implementing their “Know the Signs” safety program across the state. This program equips school staff with knowledge and skills to identify potential threats of violent action and take steps to intervene. There are 23 training dates already scheduled.
Two are of primary interest to law-abiding gun owners. We have advised the Governor, both before and after his election, of our positions on these issues, namely that we will never support so-called "red flag" laws or mandated background checks for personal, non-commercial transfer of firearms. This has been our stance since the beginning of BFA and will continue to be our position.
Unlike past administrations, this administration has listened to our reasoning on these issues and is attempting to make gun rights a high priority. This was never something previous Governor Kasich would do. Kasich treated the Second Amendment as little more than an annoyance in the political process.
However, even though it does appear that we have a very different kind of administration now, we continue to be concerned about including protection orders and background checks in this initiative. We have explained clearly that current law is better than any red flag law. We have also discussed in detail why background checks would not have stopped the Dayton killer.
There is no bill right now, so we have no legal language to examine. The devil is always in the details when it comes to law, so all we have to go on is what the Governor and Lt. Governor are saying about their proposals. When there is a bill to look at, we'll read it closely and render our opinion.
As for the other 15 suggestions in the initiative, there appears to be a heavy focus on mental health and enforcement of current laws. This is good. Crime is a people problem, not a gun problem. It is commendable that we are finally having a real conversation about mental health, crime, and how to directly deal with those who are a danger in our society rather than punish law-abiding gun owners with onerous new gun laws.
Here are some questions we've been getting over the last day or so:
Does BFA support "red flag" laws?
No. Never have. Never will. The problem is that these don't provide for due process BEFORE guns are taken. We observe due process in other areas of law, so we can't make an exception just because some people don't like guns.
Is the Governor proposing a "red flag" law?
We believe his is trying to avoid the problems past laws have presented. He and Husted spent a lot of time at the press conference talking about due process and how they wanted to deal directly with people's behavior. However, we will need to actually see a bill and read the details before we can know exactly what is being proposed. As far as we know, there is nothing written yet. If we think due process is lacking, we will oppose this part of the initiative.
Why is the media talking about "red flag" if the Governor is saying he's suggesting something else?
Because the media follows familiar storylines and use language they understand. If the Governor is actually suggesting a different idea, that's getting lost in the media coverage. The media is also not taking the time to dig into the details or wait to see bill language. Typically, reporters don't read bills beyond the title and summary.
What about so-called "universal" background checks?
BFA opposes universal background checks for several reasons. First, they're not actually universal. The most violent criminals tend to get their guns illegally and actively avoid background checks. Second, the background check system is broken. The information that is supposed to be included is often not reported by law enforcement agencies. Third, the only reason some people support universal background checks is that they want to prevent individual gun owners from occasionally giving or selling their firearms to other individuals, making criminals out of otherwise honest people. We believe guns are personal property, same as lawn mowers or furniture. So this is a direct infringement of personal property rights.
What do you think the answer is to active killers?
We have always supported a focus on mental health. Active killers are obviously troubled and need help. In the case of the Dayton killer, he had a "hit list" in high school. The school, the community, the family, and law enforcement knew about this troubled young man many years before he actually killed people. But nothing was done. Plus, our current laws prevent people who are having a beer or casual drink from carrying a gun for protection. This made nearly everyone in the vicinity of the Dayton murders helpless against an armed attacker. This is perverse and we hope to change this area of law.
What should we do about other kinds of violent crime?
I answered this question when I wrote an article on how to reduce violent crime. Based on real-world results, I suggested that we hire more police, enforce current law, and keep violent criminals locked up. It's not rocket science. There is an illogical tendency today to call for more and more gun laws and simultaneously hamper police efforts, ignore laws already on the books, and reduce sentencing or even release offenders early. Until we take violent crime seriously and stop playing games with people's lives, we have no chance to affect crime rates.
Should AR type weapons be banned?
No. Of course not. There are millions of these guns but only a tiny handful of disturbed people who use them to murder. Punishing millions of Americans for the terrible acts of a handful of sick people is wrong and unconstitutional. This is a people problem, not a gun problem. Proposals for gun bans generally come from those who just don't like guns anyway. We've seen mass murder with shotguns, pistols, trucks, knives, and bombs. We should focus on the problem, not on the tools.
Should "high capacity" magazines be banned?
No. Again, bans or limits on magazines are a red herring. We've tried laws like this in the U.S. and they've made no difference whatsoever. We must focus on the people committing crime and on people who are mentally troubled if we want to make any kind of difference.
What do you say to someone who loses a son or daughter to violence?
I'd say it's tragic to lose anyone for any reason. And I truly feel for those who grieve a loved one killed by a madman. But my personal reaction is anger and frustration. I'm angry that crime is used as a political football instead of seen as an actual problem to solve. And I'm frustrated that the gun community knows so much about guns and crime, yet gun control advocates never listen to us when we make simple suggestions for reducing crime. It's maddening that those who wish to introduce an endless stream of gun regulation know virtually nothing about the topic and don't even care about learning. Of course, there are some who DO know about guns and crime, but simply have a political agenda to damage conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans.
When will we know more about what the Governor is proposing?
When a bill is introduced. Early indications are that he wants to fast-track this, but there is no timeline we're aware of. Legislation could prove to be difficult to write and even more difficult to pass because of all the complex issues involved in these 17 points. DeWine has said that he wants to focus on laws that can get through the legislature, so it's likely that some of the 17 points will be amended or removed as time goes on. We would encourage the administration to focus solely on mental health and crime, rather than guns. This is something that nearly everyone can get behind.
Dean Rieck is Executive Director of Buckeye Firearms Association, a former competitive shooter, NRA Patron Member, #1 NRA Recruiter for 2013, business owner and partner with Second Call Defense.