Saying he has to deal with the art of what’s possible — what can pass the Republican-dominated General Assembly, Gov. John Kasich proposed six gun-law reforms on Thursday that he believes he can help Ohio avert some gun deaths.
The proposals, unanimously endorsed by a group of advisers assembled by the GOP governor, would enact laws to help keep firearms out of the hands of felons and others who should not have guns.
However, the proposed changes stopped short of a ban on semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 used in recent mass shootings or limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, both of which Kasich had indicated he supports. But, they were greeted with mixed reviews by his panel of advisers.
"This is a recognition we need to do something to provide more gun safety," Kasich said. "This is a case of the possible ... No one is interested in some slippery slope in trying to go and grab everyone’s guns."
Proclaiming "it’s a different day" amid gun-control activism by teenagers and others following the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 high school students and teachers in Parkland, Florida, Kasich asked state lawmakers to:
— Create a gun-violence protection order to allow families and law enforcement officers to ask a judge to order the temporary seizure of guns from people proven to be a threat to themselves or others.
— Mirror federal law to create an automatic prohibition against possession of a gun by those convicted of domestic violence or subject to a protection order.
— Incorporate into state law an anticipated federal ban on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to effectively be converted to full automatic fire.
— Specifically prohibit so-called "strawman" transactions in which people buy guns for felons and others disqualified from possessing guns. A man is facing federal charges for acting as a "strawman" in purchasing and providing a gun to the suspect who fatally shot two Westerville police officers last month.
— Prohibit the sale of armor-piercing ammunition considered a threat to law to enforcement officers.
— Ensure court records of convictions are promptly delivered in order to more quickly flag felons and others who cannot buy guns or get a concealed-carry permit.
A 2015 investigation by The Dispatch and WBNS-TV (Channel 10) revealed flaws in the state’s criminal background check system that could permit guns to improperly be sold to felons and others by failing to capture all convictions.
In addition to since-fixed problematic software at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, not all courts were promptly sending records of convictions to the system used by sheriffs to issue concealed-carry permits and by the FBI to check on gun buyers.
The problem with court reporting remains. A November audit by the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine found five common pleas courts, six municipal courts and two mayor’s courts not reporting convictions to the state.
Kasich has also said he supports allowing teachers to carry guns in schools, which already is permitted under state law if authorized by local school boards.
Jim Irvine, the board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said he opposes gun-violence protection orders, arguing the seizure of guns could violate individuals’ due-process rights. He also opposes mirroring federal laws prohibiting gun sales to those convicted of domestic violence, saying individual cases vary too much.
"The purpose of the Second Amendment is not buck hunting," Irvine said. "It’s to protect us from an out-of-control government."
Kasich’s proposals now go before the Republican-controlled, gun-friendly General Assembly.
Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, the top Democrat on the House Federalism and Interstate Relations Committee, where gun bills generally have been assigned, supported Kasich’s proposal, but said lawmakers also need serious conversation about prohibiting gun sales to anyone under age 21.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said his members are open to dialogue, but he stopped far short of supporting the ideas.
"Right now, we are acting to build on our investments in school security upgrades which have already funded nearly $16 million in grant money to make Ohio’s schools safer for our students and teachers," said spokesman John Fortney.
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who has distanced herself from Kasich amid her run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, denounced the governor’s proposals.
"I am deeply concerned that the first instinct of a Republican administration is to roll back the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Ohioans in response to a tragedy ... pushing more gun control laws, which disproportionately affect good actors, exposes vulnerable soft targets to the bad actors," she said.
Kasich indicated he did not believe a bill to allow local governments to regulate guns would pass the legislature, which years ago passed a bill preventing local regulation.
In a joint statement, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, City Council President Shannon G. Hardin and City Attorney Zach Klein said, "We are encouraged by Gov. Kasich’s meaningful proposals to stem the tide of gun violence ... We continue to ask Gov. Kasich to support cities’ rights to enact laws that are in the best interest of our families and first responders ..."
Kasich quietly began tossing around ideas with his advisers in November, after 58 people were killed and hundreds injured by a heavily armed sniper who rained high-velocity rounds on an outdoor concert on the Las Vegas strip on Oct. 1.
His group of advisers on gun issues, which will continue to meet, included former legislative leaders from both parties, former Attorney General Betty Montgomery, former U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce of Columbus and others.
Kasich, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association while winning re-election in 2014, has faithfully signed into law every bill relaxing concealed-carry restrictions since he took office. He contends those measures, however, represented no threat to public safety.
An average of four Ohioans die each day from gunshots, whether through violence, suicide or accidents. Ohio recorded 1,524 firearms deaths by all causes in 2016, the sixth-highest number in the nation, according to new federal figures. The state’s death gun-death rate of 12.9 people per 100,000 population ranked 26th among the states.
In the state’s worst school shooting, three students were killed and another three were injured on Feb. 27, 2012, when a pupil with a .22-caliber pistol opened fire at Chardon High School east of Cleveland. The killer, then 17 years old, received three life prison sentences without possibility of parole.
Dispatch reporters Jim Siegel and Bennett Leckrone contributed to this story.