CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — The “STRONG Ohio” initiative to reduce gun violence is a meaningful response to Ohioans who demanded we “do something” about the all-too-frequent gun violence on our streets and in our homes, and to horrific events such as the mass shooting in Dayton. I agreed to be the sponsor of Gov. Mike DeWine’s gun reform bill because it is constitutional, effective and, most importantly, will save lives.
I have heard the criticism from both sides and I suggest that they take the time to read Senate Bill 221. What this bill does not do is violate the Second Amendment, and it is certainly not a tepid or watered-down response to Ohioans’ demands for action.
What does this bill do? If you are a person who has demonstrated that you want and will cause others harm, we don’t want you to have a gun. If you are a person who is indicating that you want to commit suicide, we want to make sure that you receive the mental health care that you need, and that you do not have access to your guns.
There has been criticism that the “red flag” concept is not included in “STRONG Ohio.” This is not the case. This bill takes a constitutional route to achieve the same goals.
SB 221 builds upon current Ohio law, which allows a person to report an individual to authorities for an involuntary exam assessing threatening behavior, mental illness and/or addiction. The results of the medical exam are then utilized to, first, determine if medical intervention is needed to treat the individual, and, second, if the individual is mentally unfit to have access to firearms during this treatment. This gets help to the people who need it, and who are potential threats to themselves or others.
If, after a full due-process hearing, a court finds the individual should be prohibited from having a gun, law enforcement or family members can, under court order, safely remove the firearms from the individual.
In other legislation utilizing this “red flag” concept, the police are required to immediately remove the guns from an individual while that person, who is perceived to be dangerous, is present. Why would we endanger our police officers by sending them into an unsafe situation? We want to balance the safety of our officers with the need to remove weapons. That is why police and law enforcement organizations are supporting “STRONG Ohio.”
SB 221 also creates stricter background check penalties. First, it addresses a background check for private gun sales, which rarely include one now. “STRONG Ohio” addresses this by creating a sellers’ protection order. If you sell a gun to someone, I believe that it is both reasonable and in the interest of public safety that you can first require them to get a background check. The background check will alert the seller and the sheriff if there are reasons why the buyer is unfit to own a firearm.
While the criticism of this portion of the bill is that it is not mandatory, there are enhanced criminal penalties if you sell to someone who is not eligible to own a firearm. If no background check is done and an illegal sale occurs, the seller faces three years in prison.
Additionally, this bill will substantially improve background-checks databases by mandating that timely protection orders and arrest warrants for serious crimes are entered into state and federal law enforcement databases.
Under current law, a seller can be charged if he acted “recklessly,” which is a difficult legal hurdle. The bill changes that to “negligence,” meaning the seller must exercise ordinary and reasonable care to determine the buyer is not subject to a legal disability. For a modest $10 fee, charged to the buyer, the seller can be assured that is not the case and will not be held liable for the sale.
Finally, the bill will enhance penalties for persons who sell or provide a gun to someone prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, and for those felony cases when a gun is used, possessed or brandished. This includes penalties for straw man purchases and selling a gun to minors.
I recognize that increased penalties are not always a deterrent for committing these types of crimes – that is not my goal for the increased penalties in this bill. My goal is to keep criminals who are a danger to society off the streets and remove them from their guns.
I understand this bill probably doesn’t go far enough for some and goes too far for others. But if we are going to stop simply because this bill does not have everything a particular viewpoint wants, and therefore nothing is better than something, we are going to fail the people of Ohio.
The victims of gun violence and a society crippled by the fear of future violence demand and deserve our action.
State Sen. Matt Dolan, Republican of Chagrin Falls, chairs the Ohio Senate Finance Committee and is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 221, the STRONG Ohio bill.
Reprinted with permission from Cleveland.com